The Brandon Copple Blog

Such as it is.

Will the wolf survive?

Posted by bcopple on March 8, 2009

Photo: Max Waugh (maxwaugh.com)

Photo: Max Waugh (maxwaugh.com)

Now comes word that the Obama people agree with the Bush people’s decision to remove gray wolves from the endangered list in most of the northern plains and Rocky Mountain states. This means wolves will no longer receive federal protection under the the Endangered Species Act – one of the great achievements in U.S. environmental law – and subjects them to the protection, or not, of the states.

Bad idea.

Leaving wolf protection to the states is an endorsement by the feds, specifically Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, of the states’ so-called ‘wolf management’ plans. These are sets of rules that govern the killing of wolves; mostly, the states prohibit wolf killing except when the animals are caught in the act of attacking livestock, pets or people (all of which are extremely rare). There’s also very limited recreational wolf hunting allowed – to satisfy the truly bloodthirsty.

Wyoming is the only state where ESA protection of wolves remains in force. That’s because Wyoming hasn’t committed to maintaining enough wolves to ensure the species isn’t wiped out. And because Wyoming would classify wolves as predators in all parts of the state except Yellowstone National Park – meaning they could be shot on sight, for any reason (or, more likely, no reason at all).

Now, it’s true that gray wolves have staged a powerful recovery since being reintroduced in Yellowstone and Idaho last decade. But it’s foolish to assume that recovery will continue under the states. The ESA subjects anybody caught killing an endangered critter to prison time. The state regimes rarely match that deterrent power.

Look, wolves are good to have around. They almost exclusively prey on other wildlife, which helps manage the population of deer, elk, coyotes, etc. The benefits run wide and deep. Fewer elk, for instance, means less damage to trees that the bucks tear up with their antlers. Wolves kill coyotes, who are far more prolific murderers of livestock and general troublemakers than their bigger, badder canine cousins.

Besides, wolves are magnificent creatures and it’s just nice to know they’re out there – hunting, raising pups, haunting the western night with their beautiful howls.

That seem specious? Well, no more so than the arguments for wolf slaughter. Ranchers say wolves threaten their livestock. Bullshit. In fact, wolves are responsible for only about one-tenth of one percent of cattle deaths, which are much more likely to result from disease or even attacks by pets. There’s no rational reason for ranchers to hate wolves, and there’s no reason to continue to let these these idiot welfare cowboys shape environmental policy in the West.

For eight years the Bush administration did everything it could to undermine endangered-species protection. I would’ve expected the Obama team to put a stop to that. Maybe they will – but turning their backs on the gray wolf is a lousy way to start.

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