Today marks the official end of the “public comment period” on the Obama Administration’s nation-wide regulation “delisting” the grey wolf. The proposed regulation marks the culmination of this Administration’s push to finally strip every gray wolf in the country (outside of a small population in Arizona and New Mexico) of federal Endangered Species Act protections. If the Administration gets its way, not only will established wolf populations in states like Idaho and Minnesota continue to be unprotected, but any wolves who make it to other states -- California, Maine, Utah, or Colorado, for example, will also be completely at the mercy of local governments.
Some of these states may manage wolves wisely, but far more have shown a pattern of disturbing hostility to wolves and a complete aversion to wolf recovery. Just last week, news broke of a wolf killing “tournament” in Idaho. The Utah state legislature regularly appropriates hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to private groups to lobby against any wolf protections. Wyoming has designated over 80% of the state a wolf “free fire zone”, where wolves may be shot at any time of the year and in unlimited quantities. In Michigan, the state legislature has passed laws to bypass a popular referendum, which was almost certain to prohibit a public wolf hunt. And those gray wolves that have made it to Maine have all been shot by hunters, who claim they mistook the wolves for coyotes.
For all the success that the wolf has enjoyed in some parts of the country, there remain huge areas of suitable habitat for wolf populations to establish themselves in the lower-48. From the vast forests of northern New England, to the rich elk and deer habitat in Colorado, to northern California’s forests and rugged mountains, true wolf recovery means restoring healthy wolf populations not to a tiny fraction of its suitable habitat but, as the Endangered Species Act rightly demands, to a “significant portion” of that range.
These wild areas cry out for a return of their wolves. As ecologists now recognize, the presence of wolves and other top-predators are a crucial part of restoring the health of our wild places. From vegetation near streams, to trout and beaver populations, to song birds, owls and foxes, we now know that the entire fabric of ecosystems are transformed and made more healthy, diverse, and resilient when wolves are present.
Yet, despite this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Obama Administration have continued their inexorable march to strip wolves of the few federal protections they now enjoy. And I can’t help but wonder, why? It’s not a popular decision. Already nearly 800,000 comments have been recorded opposing the delisting proposal. It’s not the science. As NRDC makes clear in our comment letter, filed today, the scientific evidence justifying the delisting of wolves, particularly in the Northeast is shaky at best. It’s not the law. There are numerous legal problems with the delisting. And it’s probably not politics. Unlike a few years ago, there are no vulnerable Senate Democrats demanding a wolf delisting. My money rests on bureaucratic inertia and a lack of vision. Regardless, I hope the Administration sees the error of its ways. If not, NRDC and our conservation allies will be there to fight it, every step of the way.