At the end of May the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that it was going to delay its plan to strip federal protection from nearly all gray wolves throughout the Lower 48 states indefinitely. But the agency announced on Friday that they’re just going to and try and delist them anyways.
The announcement has stirred strong opinions from both sides, while some still call wolf recovery a success story, others believe the move to delist them is premature and the decision is being driven more by politics than science.
While Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona will be designated an endangered subspecies and get more protection under the proposal, management of gray wolves will be turned over to the states – which we’ve already seen result in the slaughter of hundreds of wolves in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho after protections were lifted, including eight collared wolves from Yellowstone. Wisconsin and Minnesota both went over their kill quotas.
“This is like kicking a patient out of the hospital when they’re still attached to life support,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wolves cling to a sliver of their historic habitat in the lower 48, and now the Obama administration wants to arbitrarily declare victory and move on. They need to finish the job that Americans expect, not walk away the first chance they get. This proposal is a national disgrace. Our wildlife deserve better.”
The FWS apparently considers the job finished. Director Dan Ashe said in a statement that their goal was to address threats species face and ensure their recovery, and that in the case of gray wolves the latest information shows they have “accomplished that goal” and they can now move on to focus recovery efforts on Mexican gray wolves.
There are now an estimated 6,100 wolves primarily in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes regions, with a few packs forming in the Northwest and additional sightings reported in other states. However, conservationists and scientists believe there is still a lot of space in their former range for wolves to expand to in the Pacific Northwest, California, the southern Rocky Mountains and the Northeast and that they’re are only just beginning to disperse.
They also believe that taking away their protection now will mean wolves may never be able to establish themselves in these areas.
“Science is an important part of this decision, but really the key is the policy question of when is a species recovered,” Ashe told the AP. “Does the wolf have to occupy all the habitat that is available to it in order for it to be recovered? Our answer to that question is no.”
However, organizations including Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, the Endangered Species Coalition, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the American Society of Mammologists, along with biologists and members of Congress, disagree with the so-called science behind the proposal and have all voiced their concerns.
The Center for Biological Diversity has vowed to challenge the decision in court if wolves lose protection.
The proposal will be followed by a 90-day public comment period once its published in the Federal Register, which should happen this week, and a final decision will be made within a year. You can check here for instructions on how to comment once it’s published.
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