Jun 14

Attacks on Endangered Species Act Hiding Behind Bad Attitudes and Bad Science

Wolves in the Western Great Lakes remain under Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection following a federal court decision in December 2014. Judge Howell criticized the states for inadequate regulatory mechanisms. The court ruled the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service failed to address the impact of combined mortality such as disease and human killing.

Prior to this ruling, more than 1,500 wolves have been killed through recreational hunting and trapping resulting in a substantial reduction in wolf populations. This added human-caused mortality constitutes a threat to the species. 

wolfphtoDespite the known threats to wolves, the State, along with proponents of killing wolves are again calling for delisting wolves. Their reasons are not supported by the best scientific evidence. There is no call to improve federal agency science that caused wolves to be relisted by the above-mentioned lawsuit. There is no call to ensure stakeholders, such as non-consumptive users, be represented in DNR and federal wildlife agencies. The argument that wolves take funding from other species, even given the possibility that keystone species protect a wide variety of other animals, seems to be a held belief amongst scientists within these agencies, some university scientists funded by agencies, and even those in wolf education. Where is the call to increase funding for all species at risk? Nothing’s changed. They present no new evidence and they make the same tired and unsupported claims. Those trumpeting delisting would be wise to fix the problems the judge identified. If not litigation will resume and that’s what the U.S. Constitution had in mind when it established separation of powers.

In a summit scheduled for September of 2016, State of Wisconsin officials and GOP politicians, known for their endorsement of trophy hunting and opening public lands to free-running hounds, will try to advance their argument for delisting wolves. It is also worth noting the State of Wisconsin does, in fact, manage wolves under endangered status, and USDA’s Wildlife Services in conjunction with the DNR is implementing a wide array of non-lethal farming practices that work. We commend them for this success.

However, some claim culling wolves is necessary to protect livestock and pets. Evidence suggests that harvesting wolves as a means to manage depredations is unscientifically sound (Vucetich et al). An additional study forthcoming from University of Wisconsin  indicates culling and hunting have lousy track records for preventing livestock losses and have increased them in at least three regions.

Some claim culling wolves will prevent poaching. Last month, Guillaume Chapron, PhD and Adrian Treves, PhD released a new study suggesting the opposite. They found that the wolf population growth slowed when the state had authority to cull wolves, independent of how many wolves were culled. The scientists inferred that poaching increased when the state had power to kill wolves. This evidence is consistent with the findings on inclination to poach wolves.

The States have no scientific justification for management flexibility. Instead they seem to want that flexibility to kill more wolves for trophies, improve attitudes towards the agency and to appease donors & special interest groups. Wolves would once again be killed statewide using unscientific and unethical practices.  These include hunting into breeding season, trapping in areas of prime habitat and the use of hounds throughout Wisconsin. The WI DNR does not refute information about dogs being killed but with their state managed wolf hunt, dogs will be used, which is dog fighting.

Delisting decisions should be based solely on the best scientific evidence and without commercial private interests or politicians using fear and false data to get votes. Some Federal legislators are calling for wolf delisting by attacking the ESA, which is the most popular environmental law in the nation.  We call on you to ask your Representatives, on all levels, to uphold democracy, transparency and science-based policy because current proposals and policies lack all.

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