Wolves no longer en­dan­gered but delist­ing an is­sue

Are thriv­ing in some ar­eas

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY VALERIE RICHARD­SON

DEN­VER | Cana­dian gray wolves are by all ac­counts thriv­ing in the North­ern Rocky Moun­tains and Great Lakes re­gion, but get­ting the wolf’s re­moval from the En­dan­gered Species List won’t be easy.

Even as chil­dren in ru­ral New Mex­ico take refuge from wolves in “kid cages” at school bus stops, wildlife lovers and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists are fight­ing tooth and nail the pro­posal by the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice to delist the species.

The stand­off over wolves comes as the lat­est ex­am­ple of con­flict over the En­dan­gered Species Act, which marks its 40th an­niver­sary this year amid what crit­ics de­scribe as its use as a tool by en­vi­ron­men­tal groups to stunt eco­nomic growth and de­vel­op­ment.

“As is ob­vi­ous with the wolf, we’re talk­ing about a species that is not in dan­ger of ex­tinc­tion by any def­i­ni­tion or any stan­dard,” said Greg Walcher, for­mer head of the Colorado Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and au­thor of Smok­ing

Them Out: The Theft of the En­vi­ron­ment and How to Take It Back (Amer­i­can Tra­di­tion In­sti­tute, 2013.).

“There’s no way you can es­cape the con­clu­sion that there’s some agenda at work here other than the En­dan­gered Species Act or other than the en­vi­ron­ment. It’s all about power and money and con­trol,” Mr. Walcher said. “There’s a rea­son they haven’t rein­tro­duced griz­zly bears in Cal­i­for­nia, and of course there’s a lot of cyn­i­cal Western­ers like me who say if they want to rein­tro­duce wolves, let’s put them in Boul­der where they want them. But that isn’t where they go.”

Ad­vo­cates op­pose delist­ing

Wolf ad­vo­cates may or may not have the facts on their side, but there’s no doubt they have the pas­sion: Ev­ery one of the 100-plus speak­ers at the agency’s hear­ing last week in Den­ver’s Para­mount The­ater tes­ti­fied against the delist­ing pro­posal. Some of them cried dur­ing their com­ments, while oth­ers waved signs and wore wolf hats.

“I beg you guys not to delist th­ese an­i­mals,” said Phillip Trella, a vol­un­teer at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Di­vide. “Don’t be blinded by the pol­i­tics of those who wish to hunt and mas­sacre th­ese beau­ti­ful crea­tures. To ex­ter­mi­nate the wolves is down­right wrong. Wolves can­not vote, but those who em­brace them can.”

And Colorado doesn’t even have wolves in the wild, at least not yet. But the turnout at the Den­ver hear­ing was typ­i­cal of what the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice has en­coun­tered as it gath­ers pub­lic com­ments in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a 2014 rul­ing.

“Over 900,000 pub­lic com­ments have been sub­mit­ted, and prob­a­bly 90 per­cent of those are against delist­ing the wolf,” said David Spady, a film­maker and me­dia con­sul­tant with Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity-Cal­i­for­nia. “The sup­port for the wolf is very adamant, es­pe­cially within those groups, and it has taken on this iconic sort of mys­ti­cal sta­tus with a lot of th­ese en­vi­ron­men­tal groups.”

Drowned out in the din are the voices of ru­ral Western­ers who have strug­gled to live along­side the preda­tors. They are the fo­cus of Mr. Spady’s 2013 doc­u­men­tary, “Wolves in Gov­ern­ment Cloth­ing.”

Mr. Spady spoke in Den­ver as part of a screen­ing tour for his film, funded by Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity, which he is bring­ing to ev­ery city on the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice’s pub­lic hear­ing sched­ule.

Tourism ver­sus safety

The wolves have drawn tourists to Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park, but they’ve also brought eco­nomic chal­lenges and pub­lic safety con­cerns to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties across the North­ern Rock­ies, where the an­i­mals were flown in by he­li­copter from Canada and re­leased in 1996 as part of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s wolf-restora­tion pro­gram.

In the film, res­i­dents talk about los­ing live­stock, Life­span

Weight horses and dogs to wolves, along with hunt­ing rev­enue stemming from de­pleted elk and deer herds. Wolf at­tacks on hu­mans are rare, but lo­cals say they’ve been fright­ened by wolves ap­proach­ing them on re­mote roads and ap­pear­ing on front porches.

In Ca­tron County, N.M., lo­cal au­thor­i­ties built wooden out­house-sized struc­tures called “kid cages” to pro­tect school­child­ren at bus stops from the Mex­i­can gray wolf.

“The wolf is­sue is an ex­am­ple, es­pe­cially with the kid cages, about how you’re putting the in­ter­est of wildlife over the in­ter­ests of hu­man be­ings,” Mr. Spady said. “Ev­ery Amer­i­can should be con­cerned about see­ing kids in cages and wolves out wan­der­ing around freely.”

There are an es­ti­mated 5,360 Cana­dian gray wolves in the North­ern Rock­ies and Great Lakes re­gion. The wolf al­ready has been delisted in the Great Lakes states of Michi­gan, Min­nesota and Wis­con­sin, as well as in Idaho, Mon­tana and Wyoming.

The lat­est delist­ing pro­posal would cover states where the wolves are mi­grat­ing, in­clud­ing Oregon and Wash­ing­ton, which have re­ported seven packs or about 40 an­i­mals per state. At least one wolf has been sighted in Cal­i­for­nia, while Colorado and Utah are also seen as likely des­ti­na­tions for the wolves.

The Fish and Wildlife pro­posal would also keep the Mex­i­can gray wolf on the list as an en­dan­gered sub­species, but re­turn man­age­ment to state wildlife agen­cies in Ari­zona and New Mex­ico. The wolf’s pop­u­la­tion is es­ti­mated at about 75 be­tween the two states.

At the Den­ver hear­ing, those tes­ti­fy­ing said they feared the delist­ing would re­sult in an open hunt­ing sea­son on the wolves. In states where the species is delisted, state wildlife agen­cies have taken over man­ag­ing the an­i­mals, and have al­lowed lim­ited wolf hunt­ing and trap­ping.

“I frankly am very ashamed of what we are do­ing to the wolf. I do not un­der­stand a na­tion that will bring back the wolf just to go out and hunt it to ex­tinc­tion again,” said Bar­bara Bur­ton, a Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center vol­un­teer. “How do we know at what point to stop the hunt­ing and the slaugh­ter to pre­vent that?”

Wildlife groups ar­gue that the wolf oc­cu­pies only 8 per­cent of its his­toric range, but fed­eral agents counter that their job is to pro­tect the wolf from ex­tinc­tion, not re­store the species to 100 per­cent of its pre­vi­ous habi­tat.

Mike Jimenez, wolf man­age­ment and sci­ence co­or­di­na­tor for FWS North­ern Rocky Moun­tains, said at the hear­ing that the agency’s re­cov­ery pro­grams have worked “ex­cep­tion­ally well.” The re­cov­ery pro­gram has ex­ceeded the agency’s tar­gets by as much as 300 per­cent.

“They’ve dra­mat­i­cally ex­panded the range of over 5,000 wolves in the Lower 48,” Mr. Jimenez said. “We be­lieve that this re­cov­ery will en­sure that wolves will no longer be en­dan­gered in the Lower 48, and it’s time to move for­ward.”

The agency is ac­cept­ing com­ment on the pro­pos­als un­til Dec. 17. The fi­nal pub­lic hear­ing is sched­uled for Dec. 3 in Pine­top, Ariz.

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