U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett called it a proud day.
“The wolf population in the Northern Rockies has far exceeded its
recovery goal and continues to expand its size and range. States,
tribes, conservation groups, federal agencies and citizens of both
regions can be proud of their roles in this remarkable conservation
success story,” Scarlett said.
But while the Sierra Club heralded the growing strength of the wolf
population as an Endangered Species Act success, it called the
de-listing premature. It plans to sue the USFWS, along with other
conservation groups, to reverse the decision.
There are currently more than 1,500 wolves and at least 100 breeding
pairs in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, and federally approved state-level
management plans will continue to offer the species a level of
protection. The Sierra Club said those plans include eradication
efforts, though. Wolves in the southwestern U.S. (and other areas where
their population might expand in the future) remain on the federal
endangered species list.
Wolves once filled the continent, from Mexico to the Arctic. But
hunting led to their eradication by the 1930s, and they only exist
today in the Rockies because the government backed a program to release
wolves. Because there is little inter-breeding between subpopulations
of wolves, the Sierra Club contends, the genetic diversity of the wild
population is not strong enough to ensure the species could withstand
the outbreak of a new disease, or another threat that could prey upon a
common genetic condition.
“The decision to remove protections for wolves is premature. We
still have a long way to go before wolf populations are sustainable
over the long term. This is like declaring victory at mile eighteen in
a marathon,” said Sierra Club representative Melanie Stein.
Behind the fight is a long history of Endangered Species Act
politics. A controversial law, the ESA has come under repeated pressure
from conservative lawmakers, who see it as an assault on free
enterprise and private property rights, with little evidence of
success. For that reason, environmental groups are eager to trumpet
success stories, but reluctant to see wildlife lose protected status.
The Bush Administration, further, has been roundly and convincingly
criticized for politicizing scientific decisions at the Fish and
Wildlife Service, leaving a residue of mistrust even though the main
political appointee responsible for those controversial decisions has
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