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Blog: Mission Forgotten: Feds Have Lost Their Way on Wolf Recovery

Huffington Post, Jamie Rappaport Clark, President & CEO, Defenders of Wildlife – June 11, 2013  (posted 06/17/13)

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When federal wolf recovery efforts began more than 25 years ago, I had very high hopes. I was working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered species biologist at the time and remember thinking what an incredibly ambitious and inspiring project it was.

A decade later, I was honored to release three Mexican gray wolves to Arizona's Apache National Forest as director of the Service. I'll never forget looking into the crate and seeing in the wolf's eyes the fierce green fire that inspired Aldo Leopold to develop his famous land ethic. Carrying those wolves into their new wild home, I felt a deep connection with both the animals and the great conservation leaders who came before me. It was thrilling to think that someday gray wolves would thrive once again across much of the West -- a direct result of our collective efforts to bring them back.

Restoring a native predator to the American landscape represented a grand vision for the future of wildlife conservation. Not only was the federal government fighting to save imperiled species from extinction, it was also working hard to reintroduce animals that had been ruthlessly and foolishly eliminated decades earlier. I could think of no nobler and more worthy set of conservation values than those set forth in the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Fast forward to today. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced recently that it plans to prematurely delist wolves under the ESA and abandon their restoration efforts for gray wolves everywhere except for the Southwest. With wolves struggling to gain a toehold in the Northwest and still nonexistent in places with excellent suitable habitat like California, Utah and Colorado, the federal government is giving up on the dream of full gray wolf recovery. Put simply, they are quitting before their work is done.

Some 5,000 wolves currently inhabit six states in the lower 48. This is a marked improvement since the late '80s when there were only a few hundred left in northern Minnesota. Yet, the reality is that the recovery of the species throughout key areas in the West remains as uncertain as ever. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have already started to drive their wolf populations down. Anti-wolf legislation has cropped up in Oregon and Washington, where there are presently only about 100 wolves. Utah's legislature passed a bill several years ago banning wolves altogether. And without continued federal protection, we're as likely to see sustainable populations of unicorns in five years in Colorado and California as we are to see sustainable populations of wolves.

By walking off the job before the task is done, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is redefining what it means to recover imperiled species...and not in a good way. The agency has adopted a shrunken vision of what wolf conservation is all about, failing to stick with the program until full recovery is achieved. We didn't take this easy way out in recovering the bald eagle or the American alligator, and we shouldn't do it now for wolves.

But this isn't just about wolves or eagles. Sadly, what's happening with wolves could become the new normal for federal endangered species recovery work nationwide. The premature national wolf delisting proposal signals a major shift in the conservation vision and philosophy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Optimism seems to be disappearing, and settling for second best seems to be settling in.

Wolf recovery was on the path to become one of our nation's greatest conservation successes, but now that success is threatened because the federal government wants to wash its hands of the wolf. It's a disappointing, far cry from the vision and boldness -- the commitment to conserving our wildlife and natural resources -- that used to characterize our nation's stewardship goals.

This article appeared in the Huffington Post.



Click here to submit your comments to FWS.

Some talking points for your letter are below.  If you need additional help or want someone to review your letter before you send it, email it to info@mexicanwolves.org.

Talking Points

Talk about your personal connection to wolves and why the issue is important to you. If you’re a grandmother wanting your grandchildren to have the opportunity to hear wolves in the wild, or a hunter who recognizes that wolves make game herds healthier, or a businessperson who knows that wolves have brought millions in ecotourism dollars to Yellowstone, say so.

Point out that the scientists whose research is referenced in the draft rule to remove the gray wolves' protections have stated in a recent letter that the science does not support the delisting.

Express your support for relisting Mexican wolves as an endangered subspecies and point out that delisting gray wolves throughout the U.S. is counter to protecting Mexican wolves. Fewer than 80 Mexican gray wolves exist in the wild. New populations of these wolves are desperately needed for them to thrive. But the draft plan would leave gray wolves unprotected in places where this endangered subspecies could and should live. This will make protection of Mexican gray wolves much more difficult should they expand into Utah or Colorado and make it unlikely that any wolves will be able to naturally reestablish a presence in the Southern Rockies, a region with excellent suitable habitat where wolves were once found.

Describe the ecological benefits of wolves to entire ecosystems and all wildlife. Wildlife biologists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams – just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters. Science has repeatedly demonstrated that wolves are keystone carnivores who help to keep wildlife like elk and deer healthy and bring balance to the lands they inhabit.

Thank you for taking action today for wolves!
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Photo credit:  Rebecca Bose, Wolf Conservation Center

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