Proposed legislation undermines Endangered Species Act
FRISCO — Politicians are once again meddling with wolf conservation in a process that never ends well for the animals. Last week, Republican lawmakers from Wisconsin, Wyoming and Minnesota introduced House legislation that would remove federal protection from gray wolves in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes states.
Already under political pressure, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ended protections for gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan in 2011 and in Wyoming in 2012. Federal judges overturned both decisions for failing to follow the best science and for prematurely turning management over to state fish and game agencies hostile to wolves.
The proposed legislation would reverse these court orders, wiping out Endangered Species Act protection for the approximately 4,000 wolves that live in the four states.
“This is an ugly political ploy that will end with a lot of dead wolves and do serious damage to one of the most important endangered species success stories in America’s history,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The courts have repeatedly found that it’s too soon to remove federal protections for gray wolves but these politicians want to do it anyway. This bill will subject some of the last remaining wolves in the lower 48 to state-sanctioned hunting and trapping seasons designed to drastically reduce populations,” Hartl said.
Since gaining protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1976, gray wolves have made important progress toward recovery in the lower 48, with populations growing from fewer than 1,000 wolves to more than 5,000 today.
Conservation advocates say Republicans have started zeroing in on individual endangered species since taking control of the House.
“This kind of meddling — where politicians ignore both science and law — is not only dangerous for wolves but for other wildlife that rely on the Endangered Species Act for their survival,” Hartl said. “Now no species is safe from cynical, politically expedient attacks. From the sage grouse to manatees and even the tiny American burying beetle, all species are on notice that they can be kicked off the ark at a moment’s notice for no reason other than being politically unpopular.”
In 2011 a policy rider on a key appropriations bill stripped Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Montana and Idaho. Very similar to the legislation introduced today, the rider negated a federal court decision overturning the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to delist gray wolves in those two states. The rider precluded the possibility of judicial review, making the delisting of wolves in Montana and Idaho virtually permanent.
In the three years that followed, more than 1,956 wolves have been killed in the two states. The wolf rider has encouraged similar congressional attacks on other species.
“Representatives Ribble, Lummis and Kline are not scientists and should not attempt a political end run around what should be a science-based decision on the status of a listed species under the Endangered Species Act,” said Defenders of Wildlife president Jamie Rappaport Clark.
A politically based delisting of wolves will undermine the integrity of the Endangered Species Act, Clark warned, calling on the Obama administration to oppose all Congressional efforts to delist wolves and other species.