Wolves Taken Off the US Endangered Species List
For the first time ever, the US Congress has removed an animal from the Endangered Species List, a process typically done by a federal, non-political, science-based agency. The action by the US Congress sets a new precedent for altering the Endangered Species List based on political influence, enraging environmental groups. The removal would take effect in two western states that have known issues with wolves: Montana and Idaho. Wolves would now be managed by each state's wildlife agency, inevitably leading to commercial hunting.
The gray wolves of the northern Rocky Mountains had been nearly hunted to extinction. Safeguards were put in place due to their inclusion in the Endangered Species List, and their numbers rebounded. Now, they have grown to a level that is apparently unacceptable to certain residents of these Northern Rockies states. Ranchers complain that wolves prey on their livestock, and hunters complain that they are thinning out elk and moose herds too much.
The congressional action was backed by Representative Mike Simpson, Republican of Idaho, and Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, who is up for re-election in 2012. The action was included into a rider to the Congressional budget measure. Isn’t it interesting that a bill that is being ferociously debated for balancing the US budget and decreasing the national debt should contain a new provision about wolves.
Environmental groups have taken notice, and have criticized the Interior Department for having approved this action. Michael T. Leahy, Rocky Mountain regional director of the advocacy group, Defenders of Wildlife, said "Now, anytime anybody has an issue with an endangered species, they are going to run to Congress and try to get the same treatment the anti-wolf people have gotten." The Interior Department had no comment.
State officials in the two affected states have a different view. They believe that the wolf population has to be culled due to the threats they pose to elk, moose, and deer. The issue was recently taken to court in a federal lawsuit brought by environmental groups against state officials. The two sides reached a proposed settlement, but it was rejected by Judge Donald W. Molloy. Since the courts were unable to produce a positive outcome for the state officials, they brought their issue to the US Congress where it passed.
As part of the budget bill, many federal agencies had to take big cuts, including the Department of Agriculture, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Passing off protection of the wolf population to state agencies in two states probably saved the federal government some money. But it also set a worrying precedent for how the Endangered Species List can be changed.