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For Immediate Release, September 30, 2010

Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 534-0360

Legislation Would Strip Federal Protection From Wolves Before Recovery is Complete

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity today condemned newly introduced federal legislation that would strip Endangered Species Act protections from wolves around the country before they have fully recovered.

“Recovery of endangered wolves is still far from complete,” said Michael Robinson of the Center. “Wolves occupy a mere 5 percent of their historic range in the continental United States and continue to be threatened by illegal killing and government predator control.” 

Three bills have been introduced in Congress that would, variously, remove Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho, these states plus portions of surrounding states, or the entire country. The bills respond to a federal judge’s ruling in August that overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove Endangered Species Act protections from wolves in Montana, Idaho and portions of Washington, Oregon and Utah. Judge Donald W. Molloy ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service cannot delist a species along political boundaries, in this case retaining listing in Wyoming, but rather must make such decisions based on science.

“The Endangered Species Act wisely requires decisions concerning the fate of endangered species like the wolf to be based solely on the best available scientific information,” said Robinson. “Allowing lawmakers to replace scientists in deciding which species get protected under the Endangered Species Act subverts the scientific process and sets a terrible precedent that will allow special interests to dictate which animals survive and which don’t.”

Since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995, their numbers have increased to roughly 1,600 animals now primarily inhabiting Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. However, those states intend to drastically reduce wolf numbers once the animals are stripped of federal protection. Wyoming designates the wolf a “predatory animal” that can be shot on sight across almost 90 percent of the state. Wolf numbers in Idaho and Montana would be drastically curtailed under liberal public hunting and trapping seasons, as well as by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through aerial gunning, trapping and snaring, and gassing of pups in dens. 

Wolves have also started to inhabit surrounding states, including four recently established wolf packs in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington, and individual wolves sighted in Utah and Colorado. These animals are in dire need of continued Endangered Species Act protection. 

“Wolves have gained a pawhold in the northern Rocky Mountains, but they still need federal protection,” said Robinson. “With anti-wolf attitudes persisting among ranchers and wolf recovery just getting off the ground — or yet to begin in many areas — more work needs to be done to recover the wolf.” 

To that end, the Center for Biological Diversity in July 2010 petitioned the federal government to develop a national recovery plan for the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act to establish wolf populations in suitable habitat in the Pacific Northwest, California, Great Basin, southern Rocky Mountains, Great Plains and New England.

Wolves play a critical role in ecosystems. In Yellowstone National Park, wariness of wolves keeps elk from grazing on cottonwood saplings in low-visibility valleys. The cottonwoods that have matured in the 15 years that wolves have been back are reversing decades of ecological decline by providing habitat for birds, shade for fish, erosion control, and dam material and food for beavers whose ponds improve wildlife habitat even more. In Grand Teton National Park, a decline in pronghorn numbers was arrested and reversed by the reintroduction of wolves, which killed coyotes that hunt newborn pronghorns. In similar fashion, wolves benefit foxes. Overall, considering also the carrion that wolves provide to scores of other animals and the wolf’s role in ensuring survival of the fittest in its prey animals, this remarkable species is recognized as an engine of evolution.

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