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Conservationists rally outside Yellowstone to protest wolf hunting

(Reuters) - A rally to protest sport hunting and trapping of wolves in the United States drew about 150 participants on Saturday outside the gates of Yellowstone National Park, an organizer said.

Demonstrators at the event in Gardiner, Montana, at the northwest entrance to the park called for an overhaul of government wildlife management policies for the animals.

Thousands of wolves have been legally hunted, trapped or snared in the three years since the predators were removed from the federal endangered and threatened species list in the Northern Rockies and western Great Lakes.

“We need some places out West where wolves can be wolves without fear of being shot, trapped, strangled or beaten to death,” rally organizer Brett Haverstick said in a telephone interview.

Haverstick said roughly 150 people attended the rally, with participants coming from a range of U.S. states such as Idaho, Montana, California and Florida.

Wolves neared extinction in the Lower 48 states before coming under U.S. Endangered Species Act protections in the 1970s. Federal wildlife managers two decades ago released fewer than 100 wolves in the Yellowstone area over the objections of ranchers and hunters, who complained wolves would prey on livestock and big-game animals like elk.

Wolves in the park and its border states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were estimated at nearly 2,000 at the time of delisting and now number about 1,700 due to liberal hunting and trapping seasons and population control measures by states such as Idaho.

Ranchers and sportsmen say wolf numbers must be kept in check to reduce conflicts.

“Livestock producers have made many concessions to accommodate wolves on the landscape and the result is we have a healthy wolf population and yet a decrease in cattle depredations,” said Jay Bodner, natural resource director for the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho, Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Bernard Orr)

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