(A special breaking edition of Wolf Weekly Wrap-up)
By Jamie Rappaport Clark
Just as we feared, it appears that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is ready to give up on wolf recovery before the job is done.
The LA Times reports today that the Service is expected to release its proposal soon to strip federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for most gray wolves in the United States. Under the proposed delisting, only Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest would still be protected by the federal law. The opportunity for expanding wolf recovery to areas with superb, unoccupied habitat in areas such as Colorado, Utah and California would be abandoned entirely, and the future of smaller developing wolf populations in the Pacific Northwest could be serious jeopardy. (See map of current vs. historical range of gray wolves.)
The gray wolf delisting proposal represents a major retreat from the optimism and values which have been the hallmark of endangered species recovery in this country for the past 40 years. Instead, the proposal reflects a short-sighted, shrunken and much weaker vision of what our conservation goals should be. The Service has clearly decided to prematurely get out of the wolf conservation business rather than working to achieve full recovery of the species. Their decision is the equivalent of getting up and leaving in the middle of a wildlife conservation movie, mumbling “game over – we’re done – let’s get some pizza!”
In its proposal, the Service has made a number of dubious determinations that are worth examining in greater detail.
Federal biologists have decided that Canis lupus, the species of gray wolf that once spanned much of the western and central United States, will no longer be considered endangered. Part of the agency’s rationale is that wolves in both the Northern Rockies and western Great Lakes have recovered and were already delisted. Of course, this ignores the fact that there are still significant areas in states like Colorado, Utah and California with excellent unoccupied wolf habitat but no wolves. Without federal protection and support for wolf recovery, wolves will be at the mercy of rabid, anti-wolf state politics that, unfortunately, is still far too prevalent across the West. Too often extreme rhetoric from ultra-conservative state politicians wins out over sound wildlife management principles.
More troublingly, the Service concludes that protection is no longer warranted since gray wolf populations worldwide are stable. This is a tragic reversal of long-standing FWS policy to protect imperiled species in this country regardless of their status north or south of our borders. By this same logic, grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx, bald eagles and numerous other iconic species would never have been listed and restored in the lower 48 because they exist in greater numbers in another country. The intent of the ESA was to restore these ecologically important animals in the United States. It doesn’t matter that they exist elsewhere. As Aldo Leopold, the grandfather of modern wildlife management once wrote, “Relegating grizzlies to Alaska is about like relegating happiness to heaven; one may never get there.”
The only bright spot in this otherwise significantly flawed delisting proposal is the Service’s decision to retain protection for Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest as a unique subspecies. With the current population hovering at 75 wolves, the agency at least recognized the need to continue protection for this struggling subspecies.
The bottom line, however, is that wolves are still not recovered in key parts of their range, and the conservation work is not done. Apparently the Service thinks it’s good enough to have gray wolves just in the Northern Rockies and western Great Lakes, and they’re ready to call it quits on restoring wolves anywhere else.
But we’re not giving up that easily. There is still time to convince the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to do the right thing and continue the fight for America’s gray wolves. We’re asking all our members and supporters to contact new Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and demand that she maintain protection for wolves so they may continue to expand into their historic range and fully recover. This includes Colorado, Utah, California and western Oregon and Washington – all of which could benefit ecologically and economically from the return of gray wolves.
Please contact Secretary Jewell today and tell her NOT to throw in the towel on gray wolf recovery. These magnificent animals once roamed from Canada down to Mexico. They can do so once again if we give them a chance!
You can also join a live chat this morning about the proposed delisting and the future of wolf recovery in the U.S. with LA Times reporter Julie Cart at 9 a.m. Pacific/12 p.m. Eastern. Click here for more details.