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Press Release: Politics Dominated Wolf De-Listing Meetings

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, June 27, 2013  (posted 06/28/13)


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For Immediate Release: Jun 27, 2013
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Science Was Afterthought in Developing Preferred Alternatives for Wolf Recovery

Washington, DC —The federal government’s plan to remove the gray wolf from the protections of the Endangered Species Act was hammered out through political bargaining with affected states, according to documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Contrary to requirements of the Endangered Species Act that listing decisions must be governed by the best available science, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service presided over a process in which political and economic considerations were at the forefront.

The 52 documents produced by Fish & Wildlife Service detail how the “National Wolf Strategy” was developed in a series of closed-door federal-state meetings called “Structured Decision Making” or SDM beginning in August 2010. The meetings involved officials from every region of the Service and representatives from the game and fish agencies of 13 states. The SDM process featured –

* A “Focus on Values. Determine objectives (values) first, and let them drive the analysis.” An SDM flow-chart starts with Problem and goes to Objectives, to Alternatives and then to Consequences at which stage a small box labeled “Data” finally comes into play;
* An explicit political test “Where should wolves exist? (emphasis in original) What does the public want? What can the public tolerate?”; and
* A matrix to weigh alternatives on a scale of “legal defensibility” then “public acceptance” followed by “wolf conservation” and finally “efficiency.”

“These documents confirm our worst suspicions that the fate of the wolf was decided at a political bazaar. The meeting notes certainly explain why no outside scientists were welcome,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch who had been seeking the records since April 2012. “From what we can see, Structured Decision Making was structured primarily to deal out the lower-48 population of gray wolves.”

Under a federal proposal currently out for public comment the gray wolf would be stricken from the federal list of threatened or endangered species. The Mexican wolf, with only a handful remaining in the wild, would keep its endangered status but no protected habitat would be delineated for it.

Much of the meetings were devoted to assuaging state threats to sue to halt wolf reintroductions. The tenor of these discussions was captured by a map titled “New Fantastic Alternative” which allowed unlimited hunting of gray wolves in Colorado and Utah. It also confined Mexican wolves to portions of Arizona and New Mexico.

“The Obama administration keeps preaching integrity of science and transparency but seems to practice neither on any matter of consequence,” Ruch added, pointing to PEER’s detailed complaint on how politics smothered the recovery plan developed for Mexican wolves by a team of scientific experts. “In simplest terms, these documents detail how the gray wolf lost a popularity contest among wildlife managers.”

These foundational SDM documents obtained by PEER will likely provide fodder for the lawsuits that will almost certainly follow the expected final federal decision to de-list the gray wolf.

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View the SDM overview and flowchart


Look at the political matrix for assessing alternatives


See the “New Fantastic Alternative”


Read scientists’ critique of de-listing plan


Examine state litigation threats



Revisit politics pervading Mexican wolf decisions


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Please give the wolves a voice.
Submit your comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service today!


Please give the wolves a voice-write a letter today!

Two proposed rules affecting Mexican gray wolves and all gray wolves were published in the Federal Register on June 13, 2013.


Public comments will be through 11:59 p.m. on September 11, 2013. USFWS guidance on how to submit comments is provided here.

Points to include:

While giving Mexican wolves their own ESA listing is overdue, delisting gray wolves thoughout the lower 48 is premature and unsupported by science. The very scientists whose research is referenced in the draft rule to remove the gray wolves' protections have stated that the science does not support the delisting.

A change that allows new Mexican wolves to be released directly into New Mexico instead of limiting new releases to Arizona is also long overdue.This will remove obstacles to getting new wolves and healthier genetics in the wild, where they are desperately needed.

Wolves don’t read maps. Mexican gray wolves should have the freedom to roam and boundaries on their movements should be eliminated.

The Fish and Wildlife Service should complete the Mexican gray wolf Recovery Plan; without a valid recovery plan, the agency is making important decisions without a road map

The Fish and Wildlife Service should give critically endangered Mexican wolves greater protections, including full endangered species protections, rather than extending the zone in which they can be killed or removed over livestock.

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.

Wolves are a benefit to the West and are essential to restoring the balance of nature.

Polling showed 77% of Arizona voters and 69% of New Mexico voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction.

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.

Wolves generate economic benefits - a University of Montana study found that visitors who come to see wolves in Yellowstone contribute roughly $35.5 million annually to the regional economy.

To submit comments to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, go to http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–HQ–ES–2013–0073, which is the docket number for this rulemaking.
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Photo credit: Amber Legras

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, June 27, 2013  (posted 06/28/13)

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