Republicans apparently willing to use authoritarian tools in their war on the environment
By Bob Berwyn
The GOP-dominated Congress is flexing its political muscle with legislation that would override the Endangered Species Act by removing federal protection for wolves in the Great Lakes region and Wyoming, making the animals vulnerable to state-regulated trophy hunting and trapping.
After spending several months abroad in the autumn of 2015 I returned to the U.S. just in time for Christmas and New Years, as well as the lead-up to the Super Bowl. At the same time, the presidential campaign was starting to wind up, with Trump already spreading his poisoned rhetoric and the Democrats hopelessly divided and apparently unable to offer any meaningful positive message to counter the GOP hatefest.
But what I really noticed is that most Americans weren’t actually paying much attention to the unfolding election. The GOP primary was just another sideshow in the circus of consumerism and entertainment that has become of the mainstay of American civic life. To me, it felt like what a decaying Rome must have been experiencing as the empire waned, the masses entertained by excessive spectacles in the Coliseum, while the ruling class made its last-ditch effort to exploit society for short-term gain. It all crystalized for me in late January, when I saw three stories juxtaposed in the Denver Post: one on the Flint water crisis, a second on Trump’s ascendancy and a third on the armed takeover of a wildlife preserve by the Bundy malcontents. Taken together, the three articles represent the decline of American civilization. I wrote about it here.
In the West, the fracturing of the consensus on American values has often played out in the realm of public lands management, and nowhere is this more apparent than in discussions of endangered species. I saw this trend reinforced in mid-January at a Denver meeting on wolves, where it became clear that, for all the efforts that have been made, the reactionary opposition to predator restoration still prevails in the establishment. More in this in my wolf restoration post on Medium.
Alaska’s native bears and wolves — at least those living in national wildlife refuges — may get a break from the federal predator control program, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week finalized new regulations that ban the controversial practice of culling carnivores through aerial gunning, baiting, trapping, and killing mother bears and cubs and wolves and pups in their dens.
Trapping and hunting near parks cuts has big impact
Many Americans travel thousands of miles for a chance to spot wolves in the wild, but a new study shows that their chance of spotting the predators decreases dramatically when hunting and trapping is allowed. In 2013, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility first raised the alarm that dwindling wolf numbers near Denali National Park are affecting wildlife watching.
The new research, published in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests visitors to national parks were just half as likely to see wolves in their natural habitat when wolf hunting was permitted just outside Denali National Park’s boundaries during a period from 1997- 2013. Other important factors linked to wolf viewing rates include, the proximity of wolf dens to the Park Road and the regional wolf population.
Wolf advocates hope for more releases of captive-bred wolves
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week agreed to prepare a recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves by 2017. The court settlement will compel the federal agency to finally meet its legal obligation to ensure that the wolves can establish a healthy, sustainable population. The settlement may speed up the slow-going conservation and recovery effort.
The settlement came in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of wolf-conservation groups, environmental organizations and a retired federal wolf biologist. Less than 100 Mexican gray wolves exist in the wild, making it one of the most endangered mammals in North America. The settlement follows a September 2015 ruling by a federal judge in Tucson that rejected the government’s effort to dismiss the case.
Study suggests more protection needed for rare mountain predators
Biologists tracing the elusive Himalayan wolf say that new genetic studies show the species branched off from its relatives so long ago that they are divergent from the whole globally distributed wolf-dog clade. Based on that isolated genetic isolation, the Himalayan wolf should considered a species of particular conservation concern.
Annual report documents continued westward spread of wolves into Oregon and Washington
Notwithstanding the seemingly never-ending legal wrangles, wolves are holding their own biologically in the Northern Rockies, according to the latest annual report produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and various state and tribal partners.