Public hearings rescheduled for November
*More Summit Voice wolf coverage is online here
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — There’s a little more time to comment on the controversial federal proposal to take gray wolves off the endangered species list, and boost protection for Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest.
Because of the partial federal government shutdown, the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has rescheduled several public hearings on the plan, and the comment period has been extended through Dec. 17.
The hearings will be held. Nov. 19 in Denver, Nov. 20 in Albuquerque and Nov. 22 in Sacramento. Each hearing includes a short informational presentation. The Service has also added a public information meeting and hearing in Pinetop, Arizona, on Dec. 3.
According to the USFWS, gray wolves no longer need Endangered Species Act protection, since their populations are stable across the northern Rockies and other areas of the northern U.S. The agency claims that its original wolf listing “erroneously” included large geographical areas outside the species’ historical range, and that populations have exceeded target levels by as much as 300 percent.
But critics say the federal proposal is driven by politics, and not by science. The agency has practiced a similar version of revisionist biology in a recent critical habitat proposal for Canada lynx, claiming that Colorado and the southern Rockies never had a significant lynx population.
Wildlife conservation advocates claim the Endangered Species Act require continued protections for wolves until they are recovered across a significant portion of their historic range. They are also concerned that state management of wolf populations will drive the predators back toward the brink of extinction.
In Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, state officials launched a brutal slaughter of wolves as soon as federal protections were removed, highlighting the increasingly hostile anti‐wolf policies of states now charged with ensuring the survival of gray wolf populations.
Essentially, the Obama administration has caved in to political pressure from western states, and will likely be challenged in court again when the rule is finalized. The outcome of that legal battle is uncertain. On the one hand, federal courts give agences a lot of leeway under the Administrative Procedures Act, requiring plaintiffs to show that a decision was “arbitrary and capricious.” On the other hand, many federal judges favor a strict reading of the Endangered Species Act, a law in which Congress spelled out conservation requirements very carefully.
Many leading conservation biologists are convinced that the USFWS is not using the best available science as the basis for its decision.
“The gray wolf has barely begun to recover or is absent from significant portions of its former range where substantial suitable habitat remains,” some of those biologists wrote in a June letter.”The Service’s draft rule fails to consider science identifying extensive suitable habitat in the Pacific Northwest, California, the southern Rocky Mountains and the Northeast. It also fails to consider the importance of these areas to the long-term survival and recovery of wolves, or the importance of wolves to the ecosystems of these regions.”
Wolves today occupy just 5 percent of their historic habitat in the continental United States. Today’s proposal means that wolves will probably never fully reoccupy prime wolf habitat in the southern Rocky Mountains, California and Northeast, and will hinder ongoing recovery in the Pacific Northwest.
A formal notice of these hearings and the extension of the comment period will appear in the Federal Register on October 28. To learn more about the proposed rules, view the draft Federal Register notice with the details of the public hearings, and for links to submit comments to the public record, visit www.fws.gov/home/wolfrecovery.