Announced today by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Northern Rocky Mountain Population of Gray Wolf will be removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. This removal will go into effect 30 days from the formal listing of this announcement in the federal register. I announce this to you with mixed feelings.
I believe that there is much to celebrate here. For the first time in my life, wild wolves now roam most of the natural habitat remaining in the Northern Rocky Mountain states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Just twenty years ago this appeared unimaginable. We are grateful for the hard work of all of those with the vision to see this as a possibility and the commitment to make it a reality.
Our ecosystems are healthier and more complete as a result of the reintroduction. Predators are effecting prey, which in turn effects the predator. Changes in prey behavior are having a positive effect on other plants which in turn has a positive effect on other animals. The evolutionary pressures have been restored. Nature is once again acting as nature.
The Endangered Species Act has worked. A law born thirty five years ago to recognize the critical importance of biodiversity has delivered as it was intended. The federal government has fulfilled their role to limit local self interest for the good of the country.
But then the more dangerous world appears. Wolf management has been handed over to the outwardly wolf hostile State of Idaho Fish and Game Department. This is the very department that two years ago used bad science to petition the government for approval to kill the majority of wolves in a section of the Clearwater National Forest. Lucky for the wolves and the people of Idaho, the federal government saw through their bad science and rejected the proposal. Unfortunately, their proposal is integrated into their management plan that they are now at liberty to execute.
The Idaho wolf plan is a disaster for the wolves and for the investment this country made in returning them to the wilds. Late last year I commented on the wolf plan. You can read all of my comments at that link, but the biggest single issue is that the Idaho Wolf plan makes no commitment to manage wolf populations above the absolute minimum number required to meet the federal regulations (100 wolves). Under the Idaho wolf plan the Fish and Game could go out an kill 85% of the wolf population in Idaho just 30 days from now. That would be a slaughter of over 600 wolves. There are no safeguards in the plan to protect this from happening, there have been no assurances by any leader in Idaho that this won't happen, and lastly the governor has publicly stated that he supports a hunt to kill all but the minimum 100 wolves. The Fish and Game, in preparation for the slaughter, has asked for permission to enable hunters to kill wolves, to allow F&G to use aerial gunning of wolves, to allow aerial gunning in the wilderness areas, and lastly to set poison mines to nondiscriminatorily kill anything in the hopes of getting a wolf (apparently under the "Adaptive Management" clause of the wolf plan).
On a day when we should celebrate a tremendous accomplishment of the American people, I am filled with only sadness. I am afraid that the gray wolf and the endangered species list will meet again. I hope I am wrong.
Update 2/23/2008: The Idaho Fish and Game website now states and additional objective which is to "Maintain wolf population at the 2005-2007 levels". This is great news that was not stated in the previous review of the wolf management plan. The 2005-2007 levels were in the range of 500-750 wolves. While I would like to see the population reach the carrying capacity, this seems like a reasonable compromise. I hope they follow through on trying to maintan these numbers.