The Bush Administration just announced that it was “reopening” the comment period on its proposal to strip Endangered Species Act protections from wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. Wolves were put back on the endangered species list earlier this year, after a federal judge ruled that the Bush Administration’s “delisting” of the population was most likely illegal. One of the Court’s findings was that Wyoming lacked a defensible wolf management plan (the federal government can’t delist a species if there are not sufficiently strong regulatory mechanisms in place to assure the conservation after federal protections are removed).
Although the actual press release is pretty cagy on the subject, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s wolf recovery coordinator states that the Service may try to carve out Wyoming from a new delisting rule, striping gray wolves of their protection everywhere else in the northern Rockies. It’s also notable that there is only a 30-day public comment period attached to this rule and (apparently) no plans for any hearings. By contrast, the last time the Service proposed to delist the wolf, they had much longer comment period and held six public hearings throughout the region. Why the rush? My suspicion is so the Bush Administration can try to finalize the delisting rule before it leaves office.
As my colleague Louisa Willcox notes, the fundamental problem with any delisting proposal right now is that there simply aren’t enough wolves in the region to conclude that the species has recovered.
It’s also worth adding that it’s probably illegal to delist wolves in Montana and Idaho, but keep Endangered Species Act protections in Wyoming. The Endangered Species Act doesn’t let you “carve up” populations that way: if wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains are still threatened in a significant portion of their range (and Wyoming constitutes a huge chunk of it) then you can’t delist them elsewhere. This isn’t the first time the Bush administration has floated this nonsense, either. They are also trying something similar with the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, an effort NRDC also opposes.