The Bush Administration has announced that it will remove protections under the Endangered Species Act from wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. Today's decision comes just months after a previous attempt to delist the Northern Rocky Mountain population was struck down by a federal court. NRDC, along with Earthjustice and our conservation allies will move quickly to challenge today's decision and I predict it will suffer the same fate.
But we might not be the only ones... I would expect the State of Wyoming and some of the regional rancher groups to file suit too.
One of the differences between the original wolf delisting rule and today's decision is the exclusion of Wyoming. Because the Cowboy State continues to insist that it will classify the wolf as a "predator" (meaning it can be shot on sight at any time and without a permit) throughout most of the state as soon as federal protections go away, the Fish and Wildlife Service decided only to delist the wolf in Montana and Idaho, but leave them protected in Wyoming.
Now, don't get me wrong--Wyoming's plan is awful.
But simply carving up the wolf population in the Northern Rockies into every smaller segment is not the right approach scientifically or legally. Wolves in the region are classified as a single endangered population and, so long as Wyoming's plan remains in place, it is hard to maintain that that this population no longer needs protections. Put another way: if wolves are in danger of extinction in Wyoming, then the entire population is in danger of extinction.
And that is the root of the problem with today's decision. The Bush Administration failed to tackle the hardest, most contentious part of one of our country's hardest and most contentious wildlife issue... Instead, they said "good enough" and pushed something through that will make folks on both sides of the issue see red. This just isn't a solution---and, in fact, what the Administration did today makes it harder to get at a real and viable solution. The reintroduction of wolves stands as a monumental conservation achievement. The efforts should be lauded. But with a viable population of this American icon so close to being a reality, we simply cannot allow the Bush Administration to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as they slink out the door.
We could eventually see action on this issue in every branch of government. Hopefully, those arguments will lead us to where we really need to be on this issue: a national wolf recovery plan rather than piecemeal delistng.