These days, the gray wolf is in trouble in the Rocky Mountain West and in Washington, D.C. Several members of the House have introduced a bill that would permanently remove wolves from the protection of the Endangered Species Act. A more “moderate” proposal sponsored by two Montana Democrats, Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester, would exempt only wolves in Montana and Idaho. Both bills could be pushed hard in the remaining days of Congress’s lame-duck session.
Either would set a terrible precedent, opening the door for special-interest groups to push other inconvenient species off the list. The bills would undercut one of the primary reasons for the act, which was to relieve Congress of the impossible task of legislating protections species by species and leave the final determination to scientists and wildlife management professionals.
Meanwhile, Gov. C. L. Otter of Idaho — furious at a court decision canceling his state’s wolf hunt — has said he won’t allow a dime of state money to be spent safeguarding Idaho’s wolves. He announced that Idaho won’t do biological surveys, won’t investigate illegal kills and won’t go after poachers.
What accounts for these outbursts, besides the usual political pandering to hunters? The main reason is an August decision by a District Court judge in Montana that restored wolves in Idaho and Montana to the list. The Interior department had earlier agreed (wrongly in our view) to lift protections in those states and let them manage wolf populations on their own.
Federal protections remained in place in Wyoming because the state’s management plan did not pass Interior’s muster. This led Judge Donald Molloy to rule that protections for what is a single species living in an interconnected region cannot be different in each state. Absent an approved plan in Wyoming, he ruled, protections would have to be restored in Montana and Idaho, which meant that Idaho could not have its hunt.
What’s needed is a stronger, long-term federal management plan that provides for a sustainable number of wolves across their entire range. If the states can guarantee that number, then let them manage their wolves. If they can’t, then federal protections must remain.
Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company
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