Wyoming Wolves and the Fish & Wildlife DisService to Conservation

Today the Fish and Wildlife Service is announcing the end of endangered species protections for wolves in the state of Wyoming. Normally, the ‘recovery’ of a species from the endangered species list is something to celebrate, but in this case, it’s just one more disappointing move on the part of the Service – one that turns back the progress of one of our best conservation success stories.

I give the Service credit for reintroducing wolves back in the mid 90s and overseeing their remarkable return to a landscape that they used to freely inhabit before humans all but eliminated them.  But in handing the management of wolves over to the states, the Service has failed to provide the leadership and demand the safeguards necessary to ensure that all of that hard work doesn’t just go to waste. 

By initially setting recovery goals woefully too low, the Service has allowed the states to get away with managing the population down to inadequate minimums resulting in aggressive hunting and trapping seasons already established in both Idaho and Montana.  Now, in an effort to finally wash their hands clean of wolves in the Rocky Mountains, they negotiated a deal to allow the state of Wyoming to treat wolves like vermin in the majority of the state – allowing wolves to be shot on sight for any reason – the exact type of practices that drove wolves to near extinction in the first place.

It should go without saying that sanctioning the eradication of wolves is simply no way to recover a species.  But in bending to politics, the Fish and Wildlife Service has done just that.  Rather than insist on a strong scientific basis and the legal mechanisms necessary to ensure wolf recovery, the Service has instead set the stage for the complete unraveling of what has otherwise been one of the most remarkable endangered species success stories.

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