“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.” -Aldo Leopold
Aldo Leopold was a scientist, author, and environmentalist known most widely for his book, A Sand County Almanac. Leopold’s works and his words made him one of the forefathers of the conservation movement and he was specifically influential in recognizing the ethical role that society has in conserving wildlife and wild places. His work at the time was visionary, and he continues to be a guiding force in conservation more than 50 years after his death.
USFWS Director Dan Ashe recently asserted in a conversation on twitter that Leopold is “his hero”:
Visited Aldo Leopold’s cabin in WI today and held my hero’s shotgun. Wish I could have fired it..and hunted with him! pic.twitter.com/6RuF90XRMy
— Dan Ashe (@DirectorDanAshe) August 7, 2014
And that he agrees with Leopold about the role wolves play:
.@endangered Agree 100% w/Leopold about wolves’ key role. We worked for 20+ yrs to recover them & will sustain that success w/state partners
— Dan Ashe (@DirectorDanAshe) August 7, 2014
In less than 140 characters, Director Ashe both endorses Leopold’s vision of wolves sustaining a healthy landscape and defends turning over management of wolves to “state partners.” The track record of state partners in conserving wolves in a manner in keeping with the above Leopold quote is unquestionably mixed.
While some states where wolves are still protected under federal law (California, Illinois) have taken it upon themselves to ensure that gray wolves are protected from being once again extirpated from within their borders, other states where wolves no longer have those protections have enacted policies that may not be in keeping with Leopold’s vision.
Idaho, specifically, has slaughtered entire packs of wolves in an attempt to bolster elk populations. It has gone so far as to pass a law creating what it calls a “Wolf Control Board” that will spend up to $2 million of Idaho taxpayers’ money to kill most of the wolves in state.
Is this what Director Ashe has in mind when he refers to “success w/state partners”? We asked (twice) and have yet to receive a reply.
@DirectorDanAshe Is what is happening in Idaho something you consider success with state partners?
— ESC (@endangered) August 7, 2014
— ESC (@endangered) August 8, 2014
As of today, the Service is still proposing to strip virtually all wolves in the lower 48 states of Endangered Species Act protections. Wolves in states where they have recovered are expanding, and need the protections that allowed previous generations to begin to thrive. Wolves have been spotted (and killed) in states like Iowa and Kentucky. Journey and his pups are thriving in Western Oregon. Director Ashe proposes stripping all of these wolves of protections.
So would Leopold approve? Director Ashe again asserts strongly that his policies that have allowed Idaho to pay hired killers to go into national wilderness areas to trap and kill two entire packs of wolves and Wyoming to make it legal to shoot wolves on sight throughout most of the state are successes.
Director Ashe boldly claims that Leopold would “celebrate this success too”:
@endangered Leopold supported trophy game mgmt and understood its value. I strongly suspect he’d celebrate this success too if he were here.
— Dan Ashe (@DirectorDanAshe) August 8, 2014
We can’t know if that’s true. But we do know that the success that both we and Director Ashe agree on — the recovery of wolves in some states from local extinction — owes itself to the protections of the Endangered Species Act. It’s these protections that Director Ashe is seeking to strip from wolves in most of the United States. Until FWS state partners recognize and demonstrate that the protection of wolves is an important part of their mission—unlike Idaho which declared it intends to decimate wolves and their pups down to their lowest possible numbers—we and other conservationists will continue to call on Director Ashe to keep wolves on the endangered species list.