E&E Reporter by Phil Taylor
March 25, 2013
A group of 72 House and Senate lawmakers today asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in nearly all of the country, arguing that states are best equipped to manage the species.
The lawmakers, almost all of them Republican, told FWS Director Dan Ashe that wolves can be "devastating" to livestock and big-game wildlife, but that state wildlife officials are restricted by law from controlling packs.
While wolves have been delisted in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana and in the western Great Lakes, the agency is considering whether to lift protections in the southern Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest and eastern United States.
"As you know, state governments are fully qualified to responsibly manage wolf populations and are able to meet both the needs of local communities and wildlife populations," said the lawmakers' letter, which was led by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Reps. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
Democrats who signed the letter included Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz of Minnesota, and Terri Sewell of Alabama.
The agency in February 2012 released a five-year review of wolves that describes ongoing reviews in the Pacific Northwest and eastern United States to determine "which, if any, gray wolves should continue to receive protections under the ESA."
Republicans, ranchers and some hunters have long opposed federal protections for wolves, which are blamed for preying on livestock and reducing populations of elk, moose, mule deer and sheep.
But environmentalists argue wolves also prevent elk herds from overgrazing Western habitats, leading to regrowth of tree species and songbirds, and are a prime tourist attraction at places like Yellowstone National Park.
Today's letter comes weeks after 52 House lawmakers sent a letter to the agency urging continued ESA protections in the Pacific Northwest, California, the southern Rocky Mountains and the Northeast, arguing that federal protections are critical for allowing gray wolves to gain a foothold in new parts of the country.
"We are concerned that the same prejudice towards wolves that led to their extirpation across nearly the entire coterminous United States is still present today and, not only is threatening to undo the gains achieved in the northern Rocky Mountains and western Great Lakes, but will prevent their recovery in additional areas," said the lawmakers, most of them Democrats, led by Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
Bob Ferris, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands, today said that there is adequate habitat for wolves in Utah, Colorado and the Pacific Northwest and that FWS has no basis for removing ESA protections.
But he said the agency put together a draft delisting rule and asked for input, though the proposal is not publicly available.
Chris Tollefson, a spokesman for FWS, said the agency has not proposed anything yet. While there is no deadline for issuing a proposal, the agency hopes to have one later in spring, he added.