Two months ago, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that gray wolves across the United States had sufficiently recovered and would soon be removed from the endangered species list.
While we treasure the gains wolves have made in some states, this premature declaration of a job well done by the FWS and Department of Interior simultaneously surprised and disappointed most of the conservation community.
The job simply isn’t done. Wolves have been reintroduced, and in some situations thrived, in parts of the Northern Rockies and the Western Great Lakes. This achievement is certain to be an incredible story of allowing a vital keystone species to reclaim its space on the landscape.
The efficiency and timeframe in which the Endangered Species Act allowed gray wolves to begin to recover, after being systematically eradicated from our soil less than a century ago, is astounding. When that first wolf was released back into Yellowstone Park in 1995, many hoped that wolves would regain a footing and once again be part of the American wild.
Today, wolves in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and a handful of other states have bounced back and, at least now, are not in need of Endangered Species Act protections. In the words of Voltaire, “With great power comes great responsibility”. These states have been given great power over the survival of America’s wolves.
Some are managing that responsibility better than others. Wyoming has sought to push the envelope as far as possible, allowing virtually unlimited killing in some parts of their state. Montana has made similar attempts to free its sportsmen to “manage” wolf populations very aggressively. Minnesota has undertaken management that has cut its population by a staggering 25% since 2008.
Expanding these state plans nationally can’t seem like a sustainable plan to an impartial observer, but that is precisely what Secretary Jewell’s proposal would do.
Under her plan to strip wolves of Endangered Species Act protections, wolves have simply recovered and her job and the job of the FWS is done. States will be granted authority to manage their wolf populations as they see fit.
Last spring, a wolf born in Oregon was fitted with a tracking collar. His name is OR-7, or as his supporters named him, “Journey”. He traversed the state of Oregon and ventured into California making him the first known wolf there in 65 years. His story was inspiring and remains a celebration of what we can do to recover critically endangered species.
Under Secretary Jewell’s plan, Journey could legally be shot, trapped, perhaps even gassed in his den, if that was the preference of the state in which he ventured.
Wolves in recovered areas are branching out on their own, exploring, increasing their range as we all hoped they would when that first wolf was released. Without the same protections that allowed their brethren to recover, these wolves will be fighting a nearly unwinnable battle to survive.
Secretary Jewell has made public statements indicating she believes science shows wolves have recovered and she has no option but to strip protections from wolves:
“(This) is not something I actually have a choice. It’s about science, and you do what the science says”. Secretary Jewell went on to say that the decision was made using “the best available scientific and commercial information.”
Scores of conservation biologists have submitted letters and written statements in opposition. Sixteen scientists who specialize in carnivores and conservation biology recently sent Secretary Jewell a letter expressing “serious concerns with her plan”. Saying in part, “Based on a careful review of the rule, we do not believe that the rule reflects the conclusions of our work or the best available science concerning the recovery of wolves…“ the scientists urged her to reconsider the proposal.
If the Secretary is inclined to “do what the science says”, she can rapidly correct this erroneous plan and simply leave existing protections in place.
Following the announcement of this proposal, a ninety day comment period was opened to gather feedback from members of the public. Along with our member organizations, we will use the next several weeks and months to increase public pressure on Secretary Jewell to reverse this dangerous proposal before it is too late. We are organizing actions and rallies across the country over the next several weeks, and are turning up the pressure in Washington, D.C. to encourage Secretary Jewell to correct this mistaken plan.