by Bob Berwyn
Latest budget amendment would overturn federal court rulings that reinstated protection for wolves
FRISCO — For the second time in five years, anti-environmental Republicans in Congress are trying to make an end run around the Endangered Species Act by stripping federal protection for gray wolves in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes states.
The amendment to a spending bill for the Interior Department is similar to a measure passed in 2011, when Congress removed protections for wolves in Idaho and Montana — the first time that Congress legislatively removed protections for a species. Since the 2011 rider passed, more than 1,900 wolves have been killed in the two states.
“This is another cynical attack on science and the Endangered Species Act that will result in wolves being mindlessly slaughtered in the few places where they have begun to recover,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The American people know that the gray wolf’s still-fragile recovery is one of the Endangered Species Act’s great success stories, and they want wolves protected until the job is done. The Obama administration needs to oppose this rider, which is out of step with the American people and has no place in an appropriations bill.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lifted federal protections for gray wolves in the Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota in 2011 and in Wyoming in 2012. Federal judges overturned both decisions for failing to follow the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, failing to follow the best available science, and for prematurely turning management over to state fish and game agencies openly hostile to wolves.
The latest measure in the Interior appropriations bill would reverse these court orders, wiping out Endangered Species Act protection for the approximately 4,000 wolves that live in those four states.
Since being listed 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 4,000 today. When federal protections were lifted in 2011 and 2012, state-sanctioned hunts resulted in more than 1,600 wolves being killed, contributing to a 25 percent decline in Minnesota and a 9 percent decline in the Northern Rockies.
The federal court decisions rejected the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decisions to delist the gray wolf in these areas because the states’ regulatory programs did not adequately maintain wolf populations in those states.
In the western Great Lakes decision, the federal court observed that the Service never downlisted the gray wolf from endangered to threatened — a middle step that would have allowed states to address wolf conflicts while allowing for the continued recovery of the wolf in places like the Adirondacks and north woods of Maine. In January the Center — with the Humane Society of the United States and 20 other organizations — filed a petition with the Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify gray wolves as threatened.
“Congressional delisting of the gray wolf in Montana and Idaho opened a dangerous door,” said Hartl. “Now no species is safe from cynical and politically motivated attacks by the extreme wing of the Republican Party. From the sage grouse to the Delta smelt to the critically endangered American burying beetle, every endangered species is now on notice that it can be consigned to extinction by the whims of Congress for no other reason than being politically unpopular.”