Gray wolves may lose en­dan­gered sta­tus and pro­tec­tions

The Buffalo News - - NATIONAL NEWS - By Jim Rob­bins

HE­LENA, Mont. – Fed­eral wildlife of­fi­cials are propos­ing to strip en­dan­gered species pro­tec­tions from the gray wolf pop­u­la­tions in the Lower 48 states, cit­ing sig­nif­i­cant in­creases in their num­bers across much of the na­tion.

The de­ci­sion, an­nounced Wed­nes­day by David Bern­hardt, the act­ing sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior De­part­ment, is likely to set off an­other round of court bat­tles. Con­ser­va­tion­ists and bi­ol­o­gists con­tend that some ar­eas of the coun­try, like the Adiron­dacks in New York and the south­ern Rocky Moun­tains, could be suitable habi­tats, but wolf pop­u­la­tions in those re­gions are vul­ner­a­ble and still need pro­tec­tion to re­cover.

The gray wolf pop­u­la­tions had dwin­dled to about 1,000 in the Lower 48 states when they re­ceived pro­tec­tion un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act in 1975. But since their rein­tro­duc­tion to var­i­ous re­gions, mostly in the West, the wolves’ num­bers have re­bounded to about 5,000.

“Re­cov­ery of the gray wolf un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act [ESA] is one of our na­tion’s great con­ser­va­tion suc­cesses,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice said in a state­ment, “with the wolf join­ing other cher­ished species, such as the bald ea­gle, that have been brought back from the brink with the help of the ESA.”

Bern­hardt made the delist­ing pro­posal pub­lic Wed­nes­day in a speech to the North Amer­i­can Wildlife and Nat­u­ral Re­sources Con­fer­ence in Den­ver, but it is not yet of­fi­cial. The pro­posed rule will be pub­lished in the Fed­eral Reg­is­ter, with a pe­riod of time made avail­able for pub­lic com­ment.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had also pro­posed re­mov­ing the wolves’ en­dan­gered sta­tus in 2013, but fed­eral courts re­jected the move.

Once con­sid­ered only a varmint, wolves were ex­tir­pated from nearly all of their range through a cam­paign of bounty hunt­ing, trap­ping, the killing of pups in the den with dy­na­mite and even bi­o­log­i­cal war­fare as trap­pers in­tro­duced mange into wolf pop­u­la­tions.

Los­ing the en­dan­gered sta­tus pro­tec­tion con­cerns con­ser­va­tion­ists, who worry that new pop­u­la­tions won’t be­come es­tab­lished in ar­eas where the wolf is present but not yet sta­ble.

“Strip­ping pro­tec­tions from wolves now would halt fur­ther re­cov­ery from places where wolves once lived and could live again,” said Col­lette Ad­kins, car­ni­vore con­ser­va­tion di­rec­tor for the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity. “With­out pro­tec­tions in the Adiron­dacks or Maine or the south­ern Rock­ies we don’t have any hope of re­cov­ery.”

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