Aerial Wolf Control Controversy

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Wildlife conservation groups are in an uproar after an old photograph was circulated online showing a U.S. Wildlife Services SuperCub painted with 58 paw-print decals -- one for each wolf shot from the aircraft. Wolves were removed from the endangered species list in 2011, but Idaho, Montana and Wyoming Wildlife Services agents have shot hundreds of wolves since 2009. The agency engages in the practice to protect sheep, cattle and other animals from the predation. Fish and Game officials have decided the aircraft would be a useful tool if trapping and hunting methods fall short. Conservation advocates are offended by the photo and the practice, but one part of the argument may warrant more attention.

According to representatives for the Wildlife Services, the stickers were at one time approved by Wildlife Services officials in Idaho, but they were removed in 2009 after it was recognized that they might be considered offensive. The agencies say they only target wolves for confirmed attacks on livestock and do so with permission from the wolf management agency. They are seeking to remove roughly 65 wolves as a response to dwindling numbers of elk. Wolf advocates say the elk population began falling precipitously before wolves were even reintroduced into the region and blame a shrinking habitat. They are also concerned that aerial hunting will leave some animals wounded and suffering. The previously approved decals suggest to them that the aerial control effort may be more thrill-sport than responsible animal control policy.