Did a Campaign of Fear and Intimidation Lead to the Gray Wolf’s Removal from the Endangered Species List?
There have been a number of analyses of the recent congressional wolf delisting in the Northern Rocky Mountains. One recent piece places much of the blame on “environmentalists.” It is available by subscription only the the High Country News, How the gray wolf lost its endangered status — and how enviros helped. The author, Hal Herring, writes that environmentalists filed one lawsuit too many. I find this doubtful except that the suit did alter the details of how the delisting took place. The anti-wolf forces were well in place in decade or more ago, making most of the same arguments they make today, including the supposed overall decline of elk, and the endless prediction that wolves will soon kill little children. It was just a matter of time until the three hostile states gained control.
I don’t think Herring is as hard on environmentalists as the story’s headline implies. Herring does correctly identify “the horde of [anti-wolf] Western politicians.” but he does not connect that fact to the use of lawsuits as the only feasible way to defend wolves from a very premature attack on them. The lawsuits were the excuse that Senator Jon Tester and others used to justify the congressional rider to the 2011 budget bill that delisted the wolf, but Tester believed he needed something like the action he took so to defeat his Republican 2012 rival Denny Rehberg, keeping his seat and maybe the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.
Herring is right when he wrote, “As a horde of Western politicians harnessed the anti-wolf fury, determined to get Congress to intervene, 10 of the groups involved in the fatal lawsuit panicked. Suddenly, they sought to compromise, offering a “settlement” that resembled the partial delisting they had previously sued against. There was no chance that Judge Molloy would accept the settlement . . . .” Herring is also probably right that the initial state wolf hunts did not damage the wolves as much as some environmental groups predicted. My view is it was the second, third, and fourth hunts that worried them more.
Cry, Wolf in the Earth Island Journal by James William Gibson tracks closer to my experience in the trenches. Gibson places the blame on right wing extremists stirring up hunters in the states with their wild tales of likely wolf attacks on people, supposed destruction of game herds, fear of wolf borne spread of disease, and intense anti-federal rhetoric. The national pro wolf groups did not have many people on the ground, leaving the grassroots wolf supporters more open to intimidation by the far right wingers. Gibson does tie the rise of the right wing wolf extremists into the rise of general right-wing hatred of Barrick Obama. I think he is right, and this has been underreported. The real crazy stuff, such as the wolves were a U.N. plot to steal land was present from the start, but it was very marginal until the summer of 2010 when the tea party arose and pretty much took over the Republican Party, thus mainstreaming ideas that had been on far shores of politics for the last century.
Supporters of wolf restoration played the game about as well as they could, given their modest resources. They could not have predicted or influenced the more general political trend that brought the far right to power in the region and nationally. The unexpected disinterest and weakness of President Obama pretty much left them without any politically powerful friends,expect maybe the courts, which they used.
On the bright side, wolves did spread and multiply quickly, a sure indication that they fit into the present-day ecosystem well. Their present number is quite a bit higher than the early proponents of wolf restoration hoped for, although it is the long term population that counts, not a single peak in the vastness of time. It is good fortune that the huge size and ruggedness of Idaho’s backcountry protects them. I think Jon Marvel is right as he stated (in Herring’s quote), “We think that Montana will establish (somewhat) moderate (wolf-hunting) seasons, and that Idaho may try to eliminate wolves in some specific areas, but that, absent the use of poison baits, wolves will survive in the backcountry even with continuous efforts to eliminate them.”
There is going to be a lot more anti-wolf talk between now and 2012 because Republicans want Rehberg in the Senate. They think Tester is vulnerable on wolves. With a majority in the U.S. Senate the strange new Republican Party might well end the hated Medicare, Social Security, minimum wage, unions, consumer safety laws, environmental protection and much more. “Crying wolf” for them could at long last end in their successful hunting down, killing and feasting on the grim remains of America’s middle class society.