Gray wolves were originally placed on the Endangered Species list almost 40 years ago, and since that time, innumerable efforts have been made to repopulate their packs.
But today, in what some characterize as an attempt to kowtow to ranchers and hunting groups, the Obama Administration announced its proposal to lift all remaining protections for the animals.
Under the new plan, federal protective mandates would end in 2014 for gray wolves throughout the contiguous 48 states, in a move that has hunters cheering and conservationists outraged.
In the meantime, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is soliciting and reviewing comments from the public.
The rationale for lifting the protections is said to be an increase in wolf numbers and a resurgence in biodiversity in the regions that wolf packs inhabit.
But while it’s true the species’ numbers have risen somewhat over the years, critics of the proposal say that it’s still far too early to declare the animals have been “saved”—they inhabit portions of just 10 states, whereas they previously occupied the vast expanse of North America.
And in the states where protections for wolves have already been lifted, hunters and trappers have succeeded in killing about 1,600 of them. It’s no wonder; in places like Idaho, the hunting season is nine months long, and in most of Wyoming, wolves can be shot on sight.
Dan Ashe, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director, explained the proposal to the Washington Post, “Science is an important part of this decision, but really the key is the policy question of when is a species recovered?” he said. “Does the wolf have to occupy all the habitat that is available to it in order for it to be recovered? Our answer to that question is no.”
But others, like the National Resources Defense Council, say the argument to delist is shortsighted. A senior scientist with the organization Sylvia Fallon wrote in response to the news, “This sweeping proposal would close the door on wolf recovery long before the job is done. Large swaths of suitable wolf habitat remain unoccupied, because wolves are only just beginning to disperse from, and colonize beyond, the northern Rocky Mountain and western Great Lakes regions…”
Gray wolves tend to be a lightening rod for arguments between conservationists and ranchers. Under the former, these beasts are prized for being apex predators; they’re key components to ecosystem health, which includes the promotion of biodiversity, healthier elk and deer populations, and reforestation.
Unfortunately, they’re also viewed as parasitic by the agriculture and ranching industries due to their predation of livestock and big game.
The more fortunate news is that this fight isn’t over. The Obama Administration’s proposal is still just a proposal. But if it passes next year, the gray wolf could find itself more endangered than ever.
What are you going to tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about delisting the gray wolf? Let us know in the Comments.