Thursday, March 24, 2011

Environmental Organizations Say Gray Wolf is No Longer Endangered

Earlier this month, ten environmental organizations signed a letter asking a judge to remove populations of the gray wolf in Idaho and Montana from the endangered species list, but allowing the Wyoming, Washington and Oregon populations to remain on the list.  The settlement letter was signed by some notable groups, to include the Sierra Club, Natural Resource Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife.

Decisions on whether or not to remove a species from the endangered list is usually based on a scientific evaluation of that species' recovery, not political decisions and boundaries.  In fact, a judge said so last year in a decision that supported the environmental groups' efforts at the time to maintain the wolf's endangered species protections in Idaho and Montana.  Now the environmental groups are asking that same judge to reverse his decision and de-list the gray wolf based on political boundaries.


The blogger Chris Clarke summed it up on his Coyote Crossing page:
In [the previous court] victory, Judge Donald Molloy ruled that the species could not plausibly be said to consist of distinct populations whose boundaries hew closely to state lines, and thus if wolves in the northern Wyoming part of Yellowstone were endangered, then wolves a hundred yards away in the southern Montana portion of Yellowstone must necessarily be as well.


 ...Under the terms of the settlement, the feds will come up with some jury-rigged taxonomy that allows delisting of specific populations of gray wolves whose boundaries are tailored as closely as possible to fit the state lines of Idaho and Montana. 
Some of the groups argued that if they did not agree to this settlement, Republican congressmen would have introduced legislation that would have de-listed the wolf anyways.  Other groups argued that the wolf's protections were mired in litigation, and a compromise is necessary for progress in the species' recovery.  Either way, the settlement letter is asking the judge to allow the Department of the Interior to break the law.  To de-list the wolf based on political boundaries.  Is this the precedent we want to set in Endangered Species Act law?  That elected officials can strong-arm civil society into sacrificing endangered species based on emotion and rhetoric, and not on scientific facts?

What did the environmental organizations get in return for the settlement?  A promise by state wildlife officials that they would not drive the wolf back to extinction by allowing excessive hunting.  Nothing binding.  And the Congress could still take aim at the Endangered Species Act.

Yes, we need to collaborate and coordinate with various stakeholders, whether they are energy companies, ranchers, off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, or hunters.  And I don't think the groups involved want to see the wolf driven to the brink of extinction.  But what if state wildlife agencies decide to hunt wolves to perilous limits, gas wolf pups in their dens, and Congress decides to set even more political conditions on what should be a scientific program?  What ground will environmental organizations have to stand on when they were willing to turn their back on science and the Endangered Species Act in favor of political compromise? 

So what does this have to do with California's deserts?  Wolves used to inhabit the Providence Mountains in what is now the Mojave National Preserve.  You can still hear and see coyotes in the Preserve, but hopefully someday visitors will once again hear the wolf's howl ring across the Mojave. 

If you want to let Defenders of Wildlife know your concerns about the settlement, they have invited your opinion at this website.

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