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Guest opinion

Udall: Gray wolf delisting not sound science

Forty-six years ago, my father Stewart Udall — as Secretary of Interior — issued the first endangered species list under the Endangered Species Preservation Act. His list included such great American icons as the timber wolf, red wolf, bald eagle, grizzly bear, American alligator, and the peregrine falcon.

Also listed as endangered in 1967 was the gray wolf.

Six years later, in December of 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act with overwhelming, bipartisan support. President Richard Nixon promptly signed this landmark wildlife conservation bill into law. In those years, decisions about endangered species listings were founded in science and fact, which is where they should be decided.

2013 marked the fortieth anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. As the years have passed, evidence is overwhelming that the law is highly effective and has saved hundreds of species from extinction. The bald eagle has been restored to most of its original habitat; the peregrine falcon has soared back to recovery and both were taken off the list. The grizzly bear, listed in 1975 as threatened is recovering well in some areas in the west. The American alligator was delisted due to recovery in 1999.

However, the gray wolf is an example of a species that is coming back but has not yet made it back, and yet now is caught in political limbo.

In 2011, Sen. John Tester of Montana (D-Mon) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), under pressure from constituents, introduced a rider to a spending bill that delisted the gray wolf in Montana and Idaho, while the agency charged with protecting the wolf under the Endangered Species Act — Department of Interior — turned a blind eye.

This was the first time in the history of the Endangered Species Act that a single species was delisted through legislation instead of through the scientific study around the species recovery.

That a single species can be delisted through legislation in Congress instead of scientific study of its recovery sets a dangerous precedent for the future of all protected species. Already, other members of Congress are following suit and have introduced amendments to defund recovery for the Utah prairie dog, the greater and Gunnison sage grouse, preventing a listing of prairie chickens, as well as other amendments to weaken the Endangered Species Act.

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To add insult to injury, under Secretary Sally Jewell's direction, the Department of Interior is now proposing to delist the gray wolf in the lower 48 states (except the Mexican wolf). Americans have until March 27 to submit their comments. The proposed rule has been challenged by an independent scientific peer review study released on Feb. 7 and done at the request of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The peer review scientists convened by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis disagree with the proposed rule regarding the status of the wolf under the Endangered Species Act.

There is unanimity among the panelists that the proposed rule does not represent the best available science and that the rule is based narrowly on one study that has problematic assertions and conclusions and was not analyzed critically. Moreover, the scientists suggest that the Fish and Wildlife Service was wrong to base its ruling on FWS scientists rather than a broader selection of scientific viewpoints.

Given the positive impact that wolves have on whole ecosystems, Jewell is faced with perhaps one of the most important conservation decisions of her tenure.

It is her turn to make the big decisions for wildlife and wild lands.

My father used to say if you developed a policy the wrong way you would have a big fight on your hands. Well, The Department of Interior certainly has picked a fight! Over a million Americans, and counting, have commented on the wolf delisting and the majority are against it; now top scientists concur. It's time for Secretary Jewell to follow the science, rethink her strategy and finish the work my father and his successors started.

Lori Udall is a program director for the Sacharuna Foundation, which focuses on land and wildlife conservation and indigenous rights. Her father, Stewart Udall, was secretary of the Interior for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

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4
1 comments
Mar 17, 2014, 1:30 pm
-0 +1

I guess this should come as no surprise. Given all the recent legislation - both proposed and passed - coming out of AZ that has abandoned decency and commonsense, creating yet another scapegoat for all the political and economic shortcomings of that state.
As a taxpayer, the message being sent from the ranching side regarding slow payments for losses incurred on public property seems a bit ludicrous. To take that a step further and shoot or trap a wolf or any other apex predator on Federal or State owned land in retaliation is just absurd. It makes as much sense as having a bald eagle drop something on your car, calling up the Federal Government and expecting compensation for the damage created and then hunting down and killing the first available bald eagle to send a message.
To the hunting side complaining of declining deer and elk herds that may shy away from grazing lazily in open fields because there are predators in the area (like God intended them to be and once were). Now causes one to actually hunt instead of pulling over on a dirt road, resting against the bed of the truck, pulling the trigger and walking a hundred feet to pick up the trophy rack. I say, wolves and other predators only add to the overall experience of being out of doors - not take away from it. If I shot every moose that snorted or feigned a charge at me, there would be very few left. But I don’t, because it’s just doing what it has always done. It’s not looking for a fight - I/we just stumbled upon it by accident.
Come on. Wolves are not the problem here - far from it. They are just a reflection of our failures as humans - nothing more.

3
2 comments
Mar 16, 2014, 8:16 pm
-0 +2

Please keep wildlife protected do not take wolves off list in lower 48 states.

2
2 comments
Mar 16, 2014, 8:13 pm
-0 +1

I think our country is going in the wrong direction with wildlife especially wolves this delisting in lower 48 is nonsense.  WE are rounding wild horses for slaughter. First time in over 25 years we have to horse slaughter plants. I thought we banned that are we going backwards. You want to do something get the pythons out of Florida the government states it is impossible. What the hell are you people doing in Washington, affordable health care that is it. Stop this nonsense and protect our wildlife like Clinton did with Bruce Babbitt ,you people in government should protect our wildlife.

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Gary Kramer/Fish and Wildlife

FWS taking public comments

For background on the gray wolf, and to submit comments on the proposed delisting, visit the FWS site.

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