February 7, 2014
Josh Laughlin, Campaign Director, 541.844.8182
A scientific peer review released today greatly questions the science behind the Obama administration’s proposal to strip protections for gray wolves across nearly all of the lower 48 states. The report was initiated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency that proposed the delisting, and should compel the administration to maintain protections for the species in much of the US where it is currently listed as an endangered species.
“It is high time that the US Fish and Wildlife Service re-evaluate its questionable strategy of ignoring clear science and broad public sentiment to curry favor and avoid conflict with livestock users of public lands and the narrow and misguided interests of trophy hunters,” said Bob Ferris, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands and part of the biologist team that helped reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone and central Idaho in the mid-1990s. “At its very core, this is a case of the Service whittling the edges off a square peg to fit it in a round hole.”
The 1978 re-listing of the gray wolf under the federal Endangered Species Act justifiably listed the species as a whole, eschewing subspecies designations and acknowledging that the wolf was an important ecological component and an evolving species. This was done because it was known that wolves disperse over long distances — freely exchanging genetic materials in the process — and therefore it was felt that the wolf subspecies designations established by historic skull measurements were no longer appropriate or at the very least changing with the movement of genetic materials. The Services’ recent reclassification of the gray wolf ignored current science and embraced an invalidated approach that is political convenient, but not scientifically supportable.
“The proposed rule states that even if wolves were to recolonize parts of the PNW [Pacific Northwest] west of the NRM [northern Rocky Mountains] DPS [Distinct Population Segment] that they would not be ecologically or genetically distinct. The rule, however, also acknowledges the differing ecology in this area and the historically distinct wolves that used to occupy it (once considered their own subspecies). Additionally, recent research indicates that wolves just north of the PNW demonstrate ecological and genetic uniqueness typical of a ‘coastal ecotype’ (Leonard et al. 2005, Munoz et al. 2009, Weckworth et al. 2010, vonHoldt et al. 2011). Therefore, it does not seem to logically follow that wolves establishing west of the NRM DPS in the PNW would not be ecologically and genetically unique.” Dr. Sylvia Fallon in peer review document.
In addition to the wolf classification misstep in the Northwest (see above), there is also an issue relating to potential recovery areas in the Southern Rockies and the Northeast. Although the peer reviewers were not asked directly to address the issue of how many wolves in how many areas constitutes recovery, some of the reviewers questioned the appropriateness of Services’ rejection of potential recovery areas and delisting of wolves before they had a chance to recover.
“Based on the peer review, there is no way the Obama administration can proceed with its premature plan of stripping protections for the gray wolf,” said Josh Laughlin, campaign director with Cascadia Wildlands. “It is time for the administration to put the politics aside and use the best available science to recover the species, just like we did with the American alligator and bald eagle.
The peer review has triggered another 45-day public comment period. This new round of comments will be considered by the Service before it makes its final decision on whether to remove federal protections for the recovering species. By the end of December 2013, the agency received over one-million public comments opposing its plan to strip protections for gray wolves.
Gray wolves were systematically eradicated across much of the lower 48 by the mid-1900s through trapping, hunting and poisoning. Gray wolves have rebounded in a few regions of the US, including the western Great Lakes and northern Rockies Mountains, to the point of having their Endangered Species Act protections removed. Packs have begun to establish in Oregon and Washington in recent years. Eastern Oregon is home to seven packs, while Washington has 10 packs, three of them as far west as the Cascade Mountains.
Recently, wolves have wondered into states like California, Utah and Colorado, where significant habitat and prey bases exist. Cascadia Wildlands believes it is critical federal protections are maintained in these states and others, where wolves are just beginning to gain a toehold.