The level of protection that gray wolves should receive is once again being debated.
Flash back to 2012.
Within hours of U.S. Fish & Wildlife's decision to delist the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act in Wisconsin, legislators and Gov. Scott Walker signed off on one of the most extreme wolf hunting bills ever created by any state, Wisconsin Act 169.
Promoted by a small faction of powerful lobbying groups and eerily reminiscent of government policies written more than 100 years ago intended to wipe wolves off the map, Act 169 permitted a four-and-a-half month killing season that coincided with wolves' mating and denning season; allowed for unlimited trapping and, most disturbing, allowed the use of dogs to train on and hunt wolves, despite a 2013 poll of 625 registered Wisconsin voters that found more than 80% opposed the practice. Many citizens felt it amounted to state-sanctioned dog fighting.
Things got even worse for wolves in Wisconsin in 2014.
That's when the 4th District state Court of Appeals overturned a stay on the training of dogs on wolves. Packs of dogs — unregulated — could now harass and chase wolves year round despite the lack of research on the effects of this controversial practice.
In a matter of three years, Wisconsin has lost at least 518 wolves to legalized hunting, hounding, trapping and annual unenforced quota overkills. The public outcry over this was so overwhelming that the state Department of Natural Resources had to create a dedicated email and phone line to handle the volume of concerns that flooded in. A request under the state open records law revealed that more than 99% of the communications the DNR received during the wolf hunt were from citizens opposed to indiscriminate trapping, the use of dogs in training and hunting (including problems with dogs trespassing on private property and threatening pets and farm animals), and quota overkills.
The 518 wolves killed does not include wolves killed at the request of livestock operators for "depredation control" (170) or wolves killed on roadways every year (25). On top of this, it is difficult for agency staff to estimate how many wolves are poached. One estimate, given by Joel Trick of the Fish & Wildlife Service, pegged that number conservatively at 100 a year.
Considering annual wolf pup mortality at 75%, the human take of wolves in Wisconsin since 2012 has been catastrophic. In fact, six prominent wolf researchers voiced serious concerns about insufficient state monitoring and unsustainable state management in letters to Fish & Wildlife last fall. What took 38 years and millions of taxpayer dollars to achieve — a wolf recovery in Wisconsin to about 825 animals (vs. 1 million white tail deer) — has been nearly wiped out as a result of unscientific, unsustainable management.
The mismanagement in Wisconsin and other states contributed to the December 2014 judicial decision to restore endangered species protections for Great Lakes wolves. Unfortunately, Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) and others are now advancing proposals to statutorily remove federal protection. In other words, they want to usurp the federal ruling. Unfortunately, any congressional rider or bill that promotes the legislative delisting of wolves will place not only wolves, but also the entire Endangered Species Act in jeopardy. What is to stop Congress from statutorily delisting other species that well-heeled developers or "special interest groups" don't believe deserve protections?
We learned in grade school that the Constitution created three branches of government to ensure a central government with a system of checks and balances. Clearly, Congress would not be acting in the best interests of citizens by trying to undermine the federal court's decision restoring protections to Great Lakes wolves. Lawmakers would, instead, be acting in the best interest of a tiny minority of special interests.
This legislation, if passed, would be disastrous for wolves — and betray the American public, which placed its faith on the science-based principles of the Endangered Species Act. It is urgent for citizens who care about wolves and the future of that law to contact their senators and congressional representatives today.
Elizabeth Huntley is a member of the Sierra Club John Muir Chapter's Protecting Native Forests & Wildlife Subcommittee.