Saturday, May 7, 2011

America's Gray Wolves Taken Off the Endangered Species List

Gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued a final rule to strip the gray wolves off the Endangered Species List in the Northern Rocky Mountains. This rule will allow management of these magnificent creatures in the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Utah. This rule was required by a rider, which was attached to a federal budget bill by Senator Jon Tester of Montana and Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho and it marked for the first time where a plant or animal has been taken off as endangered species by the Congress. It was recently challenged by the Center of Biological Diversity in a federal court in Missoula, Montana. There, the center's argument was that the removal of wolves as endangered species is unlawful because it violates the constitution's separation of powers. According to the center's director Noah Greenwald, the rider is also a disaster for any other endangered species which a politician does not like and not just wolves. Defenders of Wildlife president Rodger Schliekeisen expressed a similar opinion where the action taken by Congress and the Obama administration was "unwarranted and extremely disappointing." However, he further added that wolves in the northern Rockies may still have a bright future with proper management in their home states. But this statement did not sit well with Mr. Greenwald, who expressed his concern about the threat of planned hunts, illegal poaching, and aerial shooting by state agencies. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, on the other hand, praised the delisting of wolves as another success story of the Endangered Species Act after the bald eagle and the whooping crane. He further added that wolf populations in Oregon and Washington have only begun to recover, where small pack numbers have established and only individuals have been sighted in Utah.

Hunters in Idaho over their kill of the day

However, in Idaho and Montana, the numbers of wolves are strong and both the states had expressed their interests in reducing the populations in a misguided attempt to increase the local elk populations and minimizing livestock predations. This idea reflects back when Idaho governor Butch Otter signed a bill declaring the federal introduction of wolves in the state a disaster. The legislation allowed the governor use his powers to lessen the threat of 800 animals. There is even news from Wyoming where the state would like to declare that wolves could be shot on sight in large portions of the state. In addition to removing wolves in the northern Rockies off the Endangered Species List, the Fish and Wildlife Service also proposed implementing the same rule for those in the western Great Lakes area. As part of this rule, the Service will revise the animals' range by removing all or parts 29 eastern states with new taxonomic information indicating that the wolf did not historically occur in those states. It is also going to look at status reviews of wolves in the Pacific Northwest and the American Southwest to determine their listing status, and will be seeking new information about the newly-discovered eastern wolf.

Gray wolf in northern Minnesota

After reading this article, I very much felt the same way as various conservation groups involved in this fight to prevent America's wolves from being stripped of their endangered species status. And frankly speaking, I happen to agree with them that the decision whether to keep them as endangered species or not should be the job for scientists and researchers; not politicians. People like Mr. Greenwald of the Center of Biological Diversity gave strong points in support of his group's arguments that the removal of wolves violates the separation of powers in the nation's constitution. That is, the judicial power of the U.S lies strictly in the hands of federal courts and not the Congress. And it turns out that this principle was violated even after a federal judge in Montana declared the delisting of wolves as unlawful.

Furthermore, even though it appears that the wolf population in the U.S is healthy and steadily increasing, a study in Michigan's Isle Royale National Park gives a different story. The study has shown that the wolf population has suffered a shortage of females, which puts them at a brink of extinction. And at the same time, wolves in the same area (Western Great Lakes area) have been removed as endangered species. This could mean that the ones in Isle Royale are headed to extinction, unless plans to reintroduce wolves from the surrounding region will be put into action. This strategy should help in further reduction of wolves in mainland Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin in a safe and harmless way. At the same time, cattle ranchers and other people in the agricultural industries should be provided with livestock guardian dogs to keep wolves off their lands. This type of technique has helped farmers in Catalonia when the government provided them with Pyrenean Mountain Dog puppies against the threat of marauding wolves. I personally believe that the U.S government should follow this example in helping such people in distress. Just hunting will not always do any good, as Mr. Greenwald put it, saying that there will always be a threat of poaching and aerial shooting. In addition to that, the federal government should put its trust in various conservation groups because it is only they who can really determine a plant or animal's status. This way, the wildlife of North America will hang in balance.

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