Monday, January 28, 2008

The Still-in-Danger Gray Wolf

by The New York Times
January 28, 2008

One of the great wildlife management stories of our time is the reintroduction of the gray wolf to the Rocky Mountains. From a few dozen animals released in Yellowstone in 1995, the wolf population has grown to about 1,500 in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. This remarkable comeback means that later this year the gray wolf will be removed from the list of endangered species, at which point its fate will be entrusted to federally approved state management plans that conservationists warn are unacceptably weak.

Yet the wolves could find themselves in trouble even before they are removed from the endangered list. At the same time it was negotiating the state management plans, the Bush administration was quietly revising an important rule in the Endangered Species Act. The purpose of the rule is to give states flexibility in managing reintroduced species. As revised by the administration, it would require only that each state protect 20 breeding pairs and 200 total wolves. That could allow as many as 900 recently protected wolves to be slaughtered.

The revised rule is aimed not at protecting cattle or sheep but at protecting elk and deer for hunters. In our view, hunters would be wise to oppose this. The question for them is whether they want to hunt in what passes for nature, complete with a predator like the wolf, or in what passes for a game farm.

Since the gray wolf was reintroduced, studies have shown its importance to the balance of nature. What matters isn’t just the presence of wolves in the landscape, though that is profound in itself, as anyone who has seen a wolf pack crossing Yellowstone can attest. What matters is the effect they have on their ecosystem: suppressing coyotes, changing the behavior of elk and benefiting grizzly bears, which routinely take over the kills wolves make. The wolf has had to wait eons for humans to become wise enough to coexist with it. That can’t happen until this cynical loophole in the Endangered Species Act is closed.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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