The House of Representatives recently passed the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2015 (H.R. 2406), and in doing so approved an amendment to strip wolves of Endangered Species Act (the Act) protections in Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. If passed by the Senate and enacted into law, this legislation would return management of wolves to these states. Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and these states states did not follow the law in previous attempts to delist gray wolves and have ordered that they be protected.
In 2014, a U.S. district court ruled that wolves in the Great Lakes region must be protected due, in part, to the “virtually unregulated” killing of wolves in the area. Prior to regaining these protections, wolves in Wisconsin were subject to brutal and indiscriminate trapping and the use of packs of dogs to pursue wolves to their death. Aggressive hunting and trapping led the wolf population in Wisconsin to plummet, and scientists found the state likely to be drastically underestimating the number of wolves killed. In issuing her ruling, the judge wrote, “at times, a court ‘must lean forward from the bench to let an agency know, in no uncertain terms, that enough is enough.'” This case, she wrote, “is one of those times.”
Another court found that Wyoming’s kill-on-sight approach to wolf management violated federal law and ordered wolves in the state again protected under the Endangered Species Act.
This abysmal state management of wolves–and recent congressional efforts to return management responsibility to these states–led a group of 70 scientists to publish an open letter calling for the continued protection of wolves around the country.
All of this was known to members of the House when they passed the Ribble Amendment seeking to delist wolves in these four states. We know this because tens of thousands of you spoke out in person and online to deliver this message. The representatives that supported this reckless legislative rider put both the Endangered Species Act and the future of gray wolves at risk. The Act calls for species to be listed or delisted based on science, not on the feckless whims of politicians seeking reelection.
If there is a silver lining, it is that this bill is so laden with assaults against wildlife and wilderness that it is unlikely to become law. In addition to the legislative delisting of gray wolves, the bill seeks to:
- Prevent the regulation of lead ammunition and fishing equipment under the Toxics Substances Control Act. Despite millions of birds suffering slow, painful deaths annually due to lead, the SHARE Act blocks the federal government from regulating this deadly material (s. 203).
- Create a loophole in federal law to allow trophy hunters to import polar bear “trophies” into the United States. In a giveaway to big money lobbying groups like the Safari Club, the House created an exception to federal law for the purpose of allowing hunters to bring polar bear parts into the country. This action encourages the killing and stockpiling of soon-to-be-listed species with the knowledge that anti-wildlife members of Congress will create new law for the benefit of wealthy big game hunters (s. 302).
- Block the enactment of restrictions on the bloody ivory trade. Elephants are being pushed closer to the brink of extinction every hour by poachers profiting from the sale of elephant ivory. Recent restrictions put into place by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would be halted should the SHARE Act become law (ss. 1003, 1006).
- Redefine hunting to include trapping. This redefinition would potentially open millions of acres to indiscriminate and outdated leghold traps and snares. These devices are banned in many countries, put wildlife in peril, and jeopardize public safety. Rewriting the definition of hunting to include this barbaric practice will put endangered and threatened species at new risk for the benefit of an extreme minority that continue to pursue this dying activity (s. 603).
We expect more reluctance to passing the SHARE Act’s companion law in the Senate and will advocate forcefully for a veto should legislation of this sort clear that chamber.