USFWS Catch 22: Embrace Flawed and Dated Science or Do the Right Thing for Wolves

By Bob Ferris
Catch-22 (Logic)
A catch-22 is a paradoxical situation in which an individual cannot or is incapable of avoiding a problem because of contradictory constraints or rules.  Wikipedia
In Joseph Heller’s classic book Catch 22 the protagonist was caught between the horns of a dilemma.  He, Captain John Yossarian, was a B-25 bombardier attempting to get out of his service in World War II on the grounds that he was crazy, but if he wanted to leave he was not technically crazy.  Wolf Recovery in the United States is often not that different from a war, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, like Captain Yossarian, is not to blame for wanting to get out.  However, in order for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to remove itself from wolf recovery and avoid the controversy, they must demonstrate that the wolf is recovered.  There would be no grounds for controversy, if the wolf has truly recovered.  Nevertheless, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is attempting to make this claim, a claim that is not technically or morally defensible and full of Catch 22’s.
Catch 22s you ask? Take the Northern Rockies wolf program, for example.  This recovery plan was originally constructed around the concept of recovering a subspecies of wolves.  The recovery area and therefore the recovery goals were predicated on the historic range of this particular subspecies of wolf.   Subsequent morphometric (species determinations derived from skull or body part measurements) and genetic analyses have clouded this once crystal-clear picture from a classic taxonomic tome.  What’s more, the population goals were determined prior to the wide-spread acceptance and use of minimum viable population analyses (MVPs) in looking at recovery goals.  MVPs or population habitat viability analyses (PHVAs) are now commonly used to estimate needed populations.
So, if the US FWS is arguing that they have recovered this “subspecies,” then they need to take steps to protect and recover the other subspecies in the Pacific Northwest and the Southern Rockies.  But if they quietly sweep the subspecies argument under the rug and make a “Canus soupus” argument (i.e., wolves are wolves), common sense as well as science would argue that recovery goals would have to be adjusted to reflect the greatly enlarged recovery area, not just the Northern Rockies.  Regardless, nowhere in these scenarios is there a scientific justification for the USFWS to step away from wolf recovery in the Western US.  In short, they like Heller’s Yossarian cannot simply opt out of an unpleasant situation, because they no longer want to be there.
Continued federal involvement also makes sense because the threats that led to endangerment—as evidenced by behavior in the Northern Rockies states—has not diminished or been corrected.  Then there is the mobile nature of the wolf and wolf packs which frequently cross state and international borders and spend a good portion of their time on the matrix of federal public lands that dominate the western landscape.  Both these conditions are strong arguments for continued federal oversight and protections.  Add to these two arguments the fact that recovery of the wolf in the West is really a federal public lands issue (please see Oregon, California, and Washington map)
But there is another argument here that is rarely raised and that is the question of responsibility and past sins.  The US FWS—through their precursor the Biological Survey—was the agency largely responsible for endangering the wolf in the first place.  Their agents did not stop until wolves were truly and nearly annihilated in the lower 48 states.  This historic exuberance by the agency should be mirrored in recovery.  Brave and innovative wolves are trying diligently to restore themselves to their former haunts in the Pacific Northwest and Southern Rockies and their efforts need to be supported by like courage and adherence to the best available science by the US FWS.  The mission is not yet accomplished.  
For all of the above reasons and more, we ask that wolf supporters in the US and elsewhere join with us to send a clear message to the US FWS that the wolf recovery job in the West is not finished.  Federal protections must remain in place and wolves expanding into western Washington and Oregon as well as northern California need and deserve federal protection.  And we feel the same way for wolves recolonizing Colorado and Utah.  Therefore we ask that wolf supporters sign a petition to that effect here.  
Thank you.  Working together we can fully recover the wolf in Cascadia and other promising areas.  Pioneering wolves like OR-7, also known as Journey, should not become immediate targets because the road to recovery difficult and political expediency trumps science and compassion.  Let's work for wolves and keeping it wild.