Bipartisan language inserted into Congress’ eleventh hour compromise budget bill last Saturday removes gray wolves (canis lupus) from the Endangered Species List in Idaho and Montana, where wolf hunting will legally resume this fall.
But the delisting provision by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, caused predictable howls of protest from environmental groups.
“This unprecedented Congressional de-listing of a species moves dangerously away from the sound, science-based management practices that have brought iconic animals like the bald eagle back for future generations to cherish,” fumed Virginia Cramer, deputy press secretary of the Sierra Club. “Decisions about wildlife management and which animals need protection should be made by scientists, not politicians.”
But the decision to delist the gray wolf was, in fact, made scientists at the National Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2008 and 2009, the agency tried to remove protection for this “keystone predator” from the Northern Rocky Mountains, including Idaho and Montana, because wildlife experts said the population, now estimated at 1,600, far exceeded NFW’s “numeric and distributional recovery goals” since their inclusion on the Endangered Species List in 1978.
Both times, however, the agency was sued by environmental groups. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy repeatedly rejected FWS’s efforts to declare the gray wolf population recovered and return them to state wildlife management.
In a rare example of judicial restraint, Judge Molloy maintained that the court lacked the authority to allow the wolves to be delisted because it cannot “exercise its discretion to allow what Congress forbids.”
So this week, Congress will likely stop forbidding it.
On April 6, the Idaho legislature overwhelmingly passed emergency legislation declaring that: “The uncontrolled proliferation of imported wolves on private land has produced a clear and present danger to humans, their pets and livestock, and has altered and hindered historical uses of private and public land, dramatically inhibiting previously safe activities such as walking, picnicking, biking, berry picking, hunting and fishing.” So the delisting comes just in the nick of time.
Environmentalists like Cramer should be happy that decisions about wildlife management and which animals need to be protected will soon be made by scientists again, not federal judges.