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Policy chaos harms our wildlife

Eye on the Environment

Frances Lamberts

One of my columns a decade ago dealt with an action by the Congress which substantially reduced endangered species protection for gray wolves in the northern Rockies, following a “Science” article announcement of it titled “For Want of a Wolf, the Lynx was Lost!”

The wolf, important in helping balance and maintain our natural ecosystems, had been hunted to near extinction by the 1930s. Only small numbers survived in the deep woods of Minnesota and Michigan, from which they were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, in 1995. There, under protection of the federal Endangered Species Act, recovering packs curtailed exploding coyotes’ populations and helped restore various plants and animals, and overall eco- system health, in the Park.

The Congress in 2011, through an unprecedented legislative rider to a continuing budget resolution, had ordered the wolf delisted in three states in the north- ern Rockies and, equally unprecedented, exempted the removal of protections from possibility of judicial review. Biology scientists had judged the controversial action to be not based on the best available science, as the endangered-species law demands. Since then, as the Union of Concerned Scientists has reported, special interest groups repeatedly sought to remove protections for this animal across most of the lower 48 states. Public comments strongly rejected the proposals however, given the continuing scientific consensus that gray wolves remain endangered.

Under President Trump in 2020, the wolf lost protections under the federal law across the lower 48 states (excepting northern Rockies states), even through

1.8 million Americans had submitted public comments opposing the delisting. A large increase in hunting and illegal poaching resulted. In

Wisconsin alone, more than 200 wolves were killed with- in three days last spring, far in excess of that state’s quota of 119. Even the wolves that use Yellowstone National Park had “Nowhere to hide,” as conservation biologists report in the February 4 Science issue. They fear that recent, massive wolf kills in the region threaten the Park’s recovering population, though wolves are a favor- ite attraction of visitors and have been hugely beneficial in helping reshape the Park’s natural landscape.

In a big win for this endangered animal, for science and for all Americans who want the animal protected, this month a federal district judge in California, an appointee of President Bush, reversed the Trump administration’s delisting decision and restored the gray wolf’s protection. The Biden administration, listening to the science, should let this important ruling stand.