Feds should abandon planned delisting in Lower 48
The Register-Guard, Michigan
The recovery of the gray wolf is a success story that illustrates the effectiveness of the federal Endangered Species Act. But the Obama administration fails to see that it’s a story whose final chapters have yet to be penned.
The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that federal authorities intend to remove endangered species protection for nearly all gray wolves in the Lower 48 states. A draft rule, expected to be announced shortly and finalized within a year, would hand over the management of wolf populations to state wildlife agencies.
Federal officials insist that the approximately 5,000 wolves in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes region are enough to prevent extinction. But that conclusion ignores warnings from scientists and conservationists that the wolves’ numbers have not reached sustainable levels and that the agency’s analysis of wolf subspecies and habitat is flawed.
Those same critics challenged the federal government’s decision two years ago to withdraw Endangered Species Act protection in the Northern Rockies, Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington and give the job of wolf management to the states. Since that delisting, more than a thousand wolves have been killed in sanctioned hunts, including 422 wolves last year in Idaho alone.
Now, the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering removing protections in the protected areas that remain. Yet the wolves are just beginning to get a foothold in Western Oregon, Washington, Utah and Colorado, and it’s too early to end federal protection in those areas.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is under intense pressure from ranchers, hunters and some federal and state officials to remove the remaining protections. As Jamie Rappaport Clark, the former director of the Fish and Wildlife Service and now the president of Defenders of Wildlife, notes, the agency’s latest delisting decision “reeks of politics.”
Wolves were once abundant in the West before white settlers arrived. But they were hunted nearly to extinction — and were wiped out entirely in Oregon — before a small number were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park and in central Idaho in the mid-1990s. Under federal protection, the animals thrived. At least 1,600 wolves now populate the northern Rockies, although last year the population fell by an alarming 7 percent, primarily because of the 2011 delistings and the recreational hunting that resulted.
Sally Jewell, the new secretary of the Interior, should take a hard look at the Fish and Wildlife Agency’s decision, and pull the plug on the proposed delisting. Gray wolves need more time to find their balance and build strong, genetically healthy populations that can endure for many years to come.