Caving to political pressure from western states, the Obama administration wants to remove endangered species protections for the ecologically vital predators
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — In a move that’s sure to spur another round of contentious lawsuits, the Obama administration is moving ahead with its controversial plan to take nearly all wolves across the U.S. off the endangered species list.
Federal biologists say wolves are recovered and no longer need endangered species protection, but conservation groups immediately blasted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, saying that the agency based its conclusions on faulty science.
“This is like kicking a patient out of the hospital when they’re still attached to life-support,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wolves cling to a sliver of their historic habitat in the lower 48 and now the Obama administration wants to arbitrarily declare victory and move on. They need to finish the job that Americans expect, not walk away the first chance they get. This proposal is a national disgrace and our wildlife deserve better,” Greenwald said.
Essentially, the federal plan would say that wolves are simply not threatened across their global range, and that therefore, they don’t need the protection of the Endangered Species Act in the U.S.
What the federal government won’t acknowledge directly is that the decision is mostly driven by political pressure from western states, and not by the best available conservation science.
That was made clear last month in a letter from a group of scientists who slammed the agency when a draft version of the de-listing plan was leaked. Many of those same scientists did the research that the federal government used for its proposal.
“The gray wolf has barely begun to recover or is absent from significant portions of its former range where substantial suitable habitat remains,” the biologists wrote.”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.”
“With today’s proposal, the federal government walks away from wolf recovery before the job is done,” said Doug Honnold, an Earthjustice attorney who has fought in court for wolves in the northern Rockies for decades. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with ensuring the survival of species and today’s announced proposal is a huge step in the opposite direction.“
During the past thirty years wolf recovery in America has had some great successes, from the reintroduction of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains, to the revitalization of populations in the western Great Lakes states. But wolves have yet to recover in additional parts of the country – including the Pacific Northwest, northern California, the southern Rocky Mountains, and the Northeast – where prime wolf habitat still exists.
Further, the brutal assault on wolves that commenced in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho after wolves in those states lost federal protections highlights the increasingly hostile anti‐wolf policies of states now charged with ensuring the survival of gray wolf populations.
Congress has already set the stage for political interference in the wolf recovery process, and that step has put the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service at the edge of a very slippery slope. Any proposal to de-list wolves is likely to face significant opposition and legal challenges from conservation advocates.
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.
The proposal will hand wolf management over to state wildlife agencies across most of the country – a step that has meant widespread killing in recent years. Following removal of protections for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and western Great Lakes in 2011, states in those regions quickly enacted aggressive hunting and trapping seasons designed to drastically reduce wolf populations. In the northern Rocky Mountains more than 1,100 wolves have been killed since protections were removed; this year populations declined by 7 percent.
Federal officials say they will continue to monitor wolves under state management plan, and could re-enact protections if population numbers fall too low.
“By locking wolves out of prime habitat across most this country, this proposal perpetuates the global phenomena of eliminating predators that play hugely important roles in ecosystems,” said Greenwald. “Wolves are well documented to benefit a host of other wildlife from beavers and fish, to songbirds and pronghorn.”
In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, today’s proposal maintains protections for the Mexican gray wolf as a separate subspecies. Only 75 Mexican wolves roam a recovery area restricted to portions of Arizona and New Mexico. The population has not grown as expected because of a combination of illegal poaching and government mismanagement that requires wolves to be removed from the wild or killed when they leave the recovery area or depredate livestock.
“It’s obvious that Mexican gray wolves continue to need protection and we’re glad they’re getting it,” said Greenwald. “But it is equally obvious that wolves in the Pacific Northwest, southern Rockies, California and Northeast also need continued protection.”