Removing wolves from their endangered species status is supported by scientific study. It may also soon be supported by law.
A bill has been introduced to return management of gray wolves to states, effectively thwarting a federal judge’s ruling concerning wildlife management.
Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson’s office released a statement announcing that he and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming have “introduced legislation this week that directs the secretary of the Interior to reissue final rules related to the listing of the gray wolf in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Wyoming under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.”
The bill acknowledges and supports the contention that management of wolves should be left in the hands of the states that deal with wolves directly. The bill counters a 2014 Washington, D.C. federal judge’s ruling that claimed management control of wolves should be held at the federal level.
The judge’s ruling halted states’ use of controlled harvest of wolves to maintain what natural resource departments conclude are sustainable wolf population levels.
The public has supported wildlife management at the state level, particularly concerning wolves, which are seen by many as a controversial and potentially destructive predator affecting deer and elk populations. Wolves are also seen as a threat to livestock and pets in areas where they are well established.
Johnson said, “I strongly agree with Wisconsin’s farmers, ranchers, loggers and sportsmen that future gray wolf listing decisions should come from the experts, and not from judges.”
Johnson supported the proposal:
After over 30 years of needed protection and professional pack population management, the wolf has made its comeback. In 2011, the administration’s Department of the Interior determined the number of wolves in the western Great Lakes states to be sufficient and growing and made the correct decision to delist them as an endangered species.
President Obama’s own Interior secretary applauded the decision, saying, ‘Thanks to the work of our scientists, wildlife managers, and our state, tribal, and stakeholder partners, gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region are now fully recovered and healthy.’
Science supports the aim of the bill as well. Several days after the Johnson/Barrasso bill was introduced a letter endorsed by over two dozen wolf experts was sent to Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell supporting state management of wolves.
The letter was signed by 26 wildlife biologists and experts “with over 1,026 [cumulative] years of experience as wildlife academics, researchers, and managers,” including many “who have worked directly on wolves [and] have published over thirty-three books and monographs on wolves as well as hundreds of scientific articles on this species.”
The scientists conclude,
…it is in the best interests of gray wolf conservation and for the integrity of the ESA for wolves to be delisted in the western Great Lakes states where biological recovery has occurred and where adequate regulatory mechanisms are in place to manage the species. We believe that failure to delist wolves in these states is counterproductive to wolf conservation there and elsewhere where suitable habitat may exist. The integrity and effectiveness of the ESA is undercut if delisting does not happen once science-based recovery has been achieved.
Adrian Wydeven of the Timber Wolf Alliance and one of the biologists who signed the letter to Interior Secretary Jewell, confirmed what many outdoorsmen already knew: Illegal wolf killings significantly increase – they double – when wolves are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act, than when the states are allowed to manage the populations.
Once a species has recovered, management responsibilities should return to the states and federal funding should be applied to species that truly are endangered.
State wildlife managers were instrumental in bringing back wolves to the upper Great Lakes states, and now it’s important that they use their professional expertise to make sure that wolves are a part of our landscape for now and generations to come.
Of course most animal rights groups are opposed to any such legislation that would allow sound wildlife management tools as hunting and trapping, in spite of the efficacy and manageability of those tools.
When the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission recently voted to remove gray wolves from the state’s endangered species list, Mitch Merry of the Endangered Species Coalition in Washington, D.C. introduced the group’s opposition to the Oregon decision by stating, “Ignoring scientists and the pleas of thousands of concerned wildlife advocates, Oregon’s Fish & Wildlife Commission voted to remove gray wolves from the state Endangered Species Act.”
It should be interesting to see how the ESC and other animal rights groups respond to the legislation proposed by Senators Johnson and Barrasso, which though not addressed directly in the letter to Secretary Jewell, is overwhelming supported by science.