On Friday, a settlement was reached between conservation groups and the Department of the Interior over wolf recovery efforts in the Northern Rockies.
Legislation has recently been introduced that threatened to remove wolves from the Endangered Species Act. The move to delist an animal is unprecedented and would be the first time since the ESA was established that Congress has been asked to exempt an animal from protection, a move that conservation groups and activists worried could severely undermine the integrity of the ESA and put other species in peril.
Wildlife advocates are trying to head off the bills in Congress, saying this politicizes an animal’s existence with no sound scientific backing.
In 2008, 14 conservation groups joined a lawsuit to ensure the continued protection of wolves. Concerned that congressional removal of all protections for wolves was imminent, ten of these groups have reached a settlement that would remove ESA protections for about 1,200 wolves in Idaho and Montana, while expanding protection in Oregon, Washington, Utah and Wyoming.
Current counts estimate that there are 566 wolves in Montana, 705 in Idaho and 343 in Wyoming, with a total of about 1,650 for all states in question combined, with none in Utah.
Separate negotiations are being pursued in Wyoming, where wolves can currently be shot on site if they’re found outside of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and surrounding Forest Service land.
The 10 groups include Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oregon Wild, Sierra Club and Wildlands Network.
Four of the groups that declined to settle include the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Western Watersheds, Humane Society of the United States and Friends of the Clearwater. They reportedly felt that things were going in their favor and there was no reason to drop the suit when a judge declared that wolves couldn’t be considered recovered in two states and not the adjacent ones.
If the settlement is approved by the Montana federal court, wolf management will be returned to the state fish and wildlife agencies in Idaho and Montana and will be managed regionally. According to Defenders of Wildlife, scientific safeguards will be put in place to ensure populations are protected, which includes monitoring populations and independent scientific reviews after three years. If the states fail to hold up their end of the bargain, wolves may again be placed under the ESA.
Groups in opposition to the deal are concerned that both hunting and wolves being killed by Wildlife Services will not be sustainable. A study led by Bradley Bergstrom in 2009 at Valdosta University ran computer simulated population viability scenarios in the two states when hunting was allowed.
“In 100 percent of 10,000 simulations for all conditions, the population declined, effectively, to extinction (i.e., 100 individuals, a size well below the 450 at which the (population segments) would need to be relisted) in less than 10 years,” concluded Bergstrom.
“The settlement does not require U.S. Fish and Wildlife to immediately start using the best science and allows Idaho and Montana to do whatever they want,” said Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds. “This settlement is unenforceable and removes federal and state actions from court jurisdiction.”
The decision has not only left the future of wolves in the hands of policy makers far removed from their struggle on the ground, but has managed to split the solidarity of groups unifying their strength for the protection of wildlife. Dividing to conquer has long been the strategy of the federal government. Let’s hope this does not signal a trend in future efforts.
The settlement has yet to be approved by Judge Donald Molloy. A hearing scheduled for March 24 at the U.S. District Courthouse at 201 East Broadway in Missoula.
Defenders of Wildlife wants to know what you think about the decision. Let them know here.
Send a letter to your representatives asking them not to support Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg’s bill that would strip federal protections for gray wolves across the country.
Photo from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwspacific
courtesy of Tracy Brooks/USFWS