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December 05, 2008

Here we go again

Only 10 days after withdrawing their 2007 Northern Rockies wolf delisting proposal, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reopened a comment period on same proposal.

The 30 day comment period closed last Friday despite requests from many groups - including us - for public meetings and an extension of the comment period.  We can only assume the current Bush administration is preparing to rush through and reissue a new final delisting rule before leaving office. 
Since USFWS did not address the inadequacy of Wyoming’s state law and wolf management plan, the agency now appears to be proposing to delist only a portion of the Northern Rockies by excluding Wyoming. 

However, the ESA only allows listing and delisting decisions at the species, subspecies or DPS levels and not in a piecemeal fashion as proposed.  Such an approach would only serve to highlight serious problems in state wolf management plans.

For example, the official policy of the state of Idaho, per its legislature, is that wolves should be eradicated from its borders. Although Judge Molloy’s preliminary ruling in Defenders of Wildlife v. Hall did not specifically address the adequacy of these other state plans, serious issues remain and we strongly believe that Idaho’s plan, in addition to Wyoming's, does not provide adequate protections for wolves. Third, the current proposal allows more than 1000 wolves (all but 300 - 450) to be killed in the region. 

At that reduced level, the wolf population cannot achieve important connectivity and genetic exchange. The USFWS has not documented population levels necessary for such connectivity and genetic exchange. Instead, the agency is now proposing a scheme to truck wolves between recovery areas to attempt to artificially replicate genetic exchange. Such extreme efforts clearly indicate that the species has not fully recovered and needs continued federal protection.

Before delisting may take place, the ESA requires recovery in a functioning ecosystem, not artificial maintenance of a captive or heavily manipulated population.  “[The purpose of the ESA is to promote populations that are self-sustaining without human interference.” [emphasis added]  Trout Unlimited v. Lohn, No. CV06-0483-JCC, 2007 WL 1795036, at *15 (W.D. Wash. June 13, 2007) (citing 16 U.S.C. § 1531(b); Interagency Cooperative Policy for the Ecosystem Approach to the ESA, 59 Fed. Reg. 34,273, 34,274 (July 1, 1994) (agency policy is to “[d]evelop and implement recovery plans ... in a manner that restores, reconstructs, or rehabilitates the structure, distribution, connectivity and function upon which ... listed species depend”).

 Until science and law prevail over political schemes, we're back to another fight over wolf delisting.


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