Wolves Need Protection: DeFazio Asks the Feds to Extend Their Protected Status

Editorial by the Register-Guard
March 7, 2013

Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., along with 50 other members of the House of Representatives, have asked U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ash to continue existing federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves.

Ash, whose agency reportedly is close to removing federal protections for the wolves, should heed this unusual bipartisan request.
The gray wolf, once hunted nearly to extinction, has staged a remarkable comeback since the federal government sponsored its reintroduction into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in the 1990s. With wolf numbers approaching 1,800, the federal government withdrew Endangered Species Act protection two years ago in the Northern Rockies, Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington and yielded recovery management to the states.

That decision drew criticism, including from this newspaper, because it ignored warnings from wildlife biologists that the species’ numbers had not reached sustainable levels. Since the delisting, hundreds of wolves have been killed in sanctioned hunts — including 422 wolves last year in Idaho alone.

Now, the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering removing protections in most of the protected areas that remain. Yet the wolves are just beginning to get a foothold in Western Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado, and it’s too early to end federal endangered species protection in those areas.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is under intense pressure from politicians, ranchers and hunters to remove protections in most of the lower 48 states. But it’s far from clear that there are enough wolves in the remaining protected areas to guarantee sustainable populations.

It’s easy to forget that wolves were once abundant in the West before white settlers arrived. But bounties, state and federal extermination programs and human settlement drove the wolf to near extinction. In Oregon, state wildlife officials were so determined to eliminate wolves that they were paying bounties into the 1930s, well after most of the animals already had been killed off.

In their letter to the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, DeFazio and his fellow House members called wolf recovery “a wildlife success story in the making.”

They’re right. But the end of the story has yet to be written, and premature removal of protection for wolves could turn the success story into a tragedy.