The Associated Press is reporting that Senator John Tester got the go-ahead to attach a rider to last night’s budget deal that will strip endangered species protections from gray wolves in the Northern Rockies. As a result, Montana and Idaho (whose legislature recently passed an absurd “declaration of wolf emergency bill”) are very likely to move forward with plans to kill hundreds of wolves in the region.
This is a huge setback for one of America’s greatest conservation success stories and a significant blow to the Endangered Species Act and the principle it embodies: that science and law, not the whims of politics, should dictate what animals and plants are worthy of federal protection. It is particularly disappointing that Senators Tester, Baucus, and Congressional leadership would moved this forward knowing full well that a settlement is in front of a federal judge in Montana that would alleviate the conflicts over wolves without setting a precedent that would hobble the Endangered Species Act. Just as the assaults on the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act, proposed as riders in the House, were inappropriate for a budget bill---Congressional leaders should put this forth as a standalone bill if they want to undercut one of the foundations of American environmental law, rather than sneaking it through the back door in the dead of night.
Now is not the time to give up, however. We will keep fighting for wolves and, should this short-sighted rider move forward in the budget, NRDC will carefully review whatever language Congress enacts and assess our options. We will be closely monitoring the state management of wolves and the federal agencies that want to help the states carry out their plans. And we will keep fighting to defend the Endangered Species Act and all the living things it protects.
UPDATE (3:00 p.m.): I just learned that the federal court has ruled and said that it will not approve the settlement I noted above, one that might have resolved the wolf controversy. This is another blow and will make stopping this irresponsible wolf rider all the more difficult. But it does not change the basic fact that Congress shouldn't be meddling in science or in the even-handed application of a law like the Endangered Species Act. And it certainly does not alter the fact that this kind of profound change in policy should be debated in the light of day, not tacked onto a budget deal at the last minute.