The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) proposal to remove federal protections from gray wolves has been delivered. In response, wolf advocates released a report concluding the plan is flawed, which they hope will be the fatal blow necessary to stop it.
An independent scientific peer review was hosted and managed by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), a research center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, not to determine if wolves should stay protected, but to determine if the FWS had used the best available science to support its proposal. The NCEAS was tasked with the job after the FWS came under fire for booting three top scientists who had spoken out against delisting from the first panel last August.
The panel of scientists released its assessment of the proposed rule on Friday that unanimously concluded that the proposal does not currently represent the ‘best available science.’ Even with the FWS’ meddling, the panel concluded what wolf advocates have been saying all along: removing protections for wolves throughout the lower 48 isn’t justified.
At the heart of the matter, among other issues, was the finding that there was insufficient evidence to support the claim that different species of gray wolves live in the the Northeast and Midwest (Canis lycaon) than in the Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes region (Canis lupis). If the gray wolves in question (Canis lupis) never existed in the east, their recovery wouldn’t be necessary there, but the FWS’s claim that there are two hinges on a study that’s not widely accepted.
“The Service’s attempt to justify this decision on dubious science does not mask the fact that wolves occupy just a small fraction of their former range in the United States,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “And in the few places where wolves have returned, they face levels of persecution not seen since the early 1900s that have resulted in the deaths of more than 2,600 wolves since 2011.”
Concerns continue to be raised about what will happen to these iconic predators if they are prematurely stripped of federal protection. Thousands have already been brutally slaughtered by hunters and trappers since they lost protection in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes after management authority was turned over to states that are blatantly hostile to them. If wolves are delisted in the Pacific Northwest, California, the southern Rocky Mountains and the Northeast they will be left facing even worse odds than they already are and may never establish new territories, which is critical to their successful recovery.
At the very least, the panel’s findings put a huge kink in the government’s plan, but wolf advocates hope that the findings will mean the FWS has no choice left but to pull the plug on its proposal and finish the job of wolf recovery.
“We are calling on Secretary Jewell and Director Ashe to keep their promise to follow the best available science,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director of WildEarth Guardians. “The independent peer review is clear: the Service did not do so. The only thing left is for the Service to rescind the fatally flawed proposed rule.”
Gray wolves have already garnered the largest number of public comments ever submitted on a federal decision involving an endangered species before the public comment period was closed in December, with approximately one million Americans coming forward to oppose stripping them of protection under the Endangered Species Act. Thanks to this news, there’s more time to speak out on their behalf.
As a result of the panel’s findings, the FWS has reopened the public comment period and extended it until March 27. You can submit a comment in support of keeping wolves protected here at regulations.gov.
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