BILLINGS, Mont. — Wildlife officials from western states lobbied for strict limits on federal protections for gray wolves before the Obama administration proposed to take the animals off the endangered list across most of the Lower 48 states, documents show.
During private meetings with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state officials threatened lawsuits and legislation as they pressed to exclude Colorado and Utah from a small area in the West where protections would remain in place.
The documents suggest the animal’s fate was decided through political bargaining between state and federal officials, said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
The nonprofit group obtained the records through a freedom of information lawsuit and provided them to The Associated Press.
“In simplest terms, these documents detail how the gray wolf lost a popularity contest among wildlife managers,” Ruch said.
Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Director Gary Frazer rejected the assertion. He said science drove the administration’s proposal, and the released documents reflect only a small portion of a years-long review of the legal status of gray wolves.
“It was not going in with some predetermined outcome,” he said of the meetings with state officials. “It was to step back and engage experts from the state and federal agencies that are responsible for managing wolves.”
The administration’s plan unveiled earlier this month would declare gray wolves are only endangered in a relatively small part of the Southwest inhabited by a few dozen Mexican wolves — a subspecies of the gray wolf.
Meanwhile, gray wolves would lose protections on millions of acres in Colorado and Utah — an area the wildlife service earlier had said was suitable for wolves but currently has none of the predators.
The documents from 2010 and 2011 include detailed notes from closed-door meetings between state and federal officials, presentations by federal wildlife experts, and maps of potential wolf habitat.
The meetings laid the groundwork for the administration’s proposal, which is expected to be finalized next year. It reflects the federal government’s desire to largely exit the wolf restoration business following protracted and hotly contested programs in the northern Rocky Mountains and western Great Lakes.
More than 6,000 wolves now roam those two regions after government-sponsored poisoning and trapping nearly exterminated wolves in the past century.
But with vast areas of wild habitat still devoid of gray wolves, some wildlife researchers and advocacy groups say it’s too soon to say the species has recovered.
The documents show the government weighed a variety of factors beyond gray wolf survival, including economic impact on the livestock industry, public tolerance and other issues outside the scope of the Endangered Species Act.
Frazer said the government didn’t take anything off the table during its discussions with the states but stressed that its final decision would be based solely on the authority provided by the act.
Under the pending proposal, Mexican wolves that spread into Colorado, Utah or other states still would be protected. That would not be true for wolves that dispersed south from the much larger northern Rockies population.
Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said the state supports the administration’s plan. He declined to comment on how the federal government reached its conclusions.
Michigan Technological University biologist John Vucetich, a member of a scientific panel that advised the Fish and Wildlife Service on Mexican wolves, said the agency gave states too much deference. The panel’s experts agreed that the Mexican wolf population would need to reach around 700 animals and cover significant parts of Colorado and Utah to survive in the long term, he said.
“It’s almost as if the real limiting factor to wolves right now is not the intolerance of citizens who are shooting them,” he said. “It’s the intolerance of federal government to keep working on the problem.”
This story was published in the Washington Post.
Two proposals important to the future of Mexican gray wolves have been released. Please comment on both:
The first would strip Endangered Species Act protections from all gray wolves except Mexican gray wolves and would leave Mexican wolves unable to establish new populations in additional areas like Colorado and Utah. To comment on this rule, click here.
Points to include:
Delisting gray wolves throughout 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 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.
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.
The second would do one good thing and many bad things. Submit your comments here.
Points to include are:
I support allowing direct releases of Mexican wolves into parts of New Mexico and additional areas in Arizona.
This change has been recommended by experts for over 10 years and can be made faster and with less bureaucratic delay than any other part of the proposed rule.
The USFWS should put the rest of this proposed rule on hold and SPEED UP APPROVAL FOR MORE DIRECT RELEASES
I do not support designating Mexican wolves in the wild as “non-essential, experimental.”
By labeling all of the wild wolves as “nonessential” the USFWS ignores science and the reality of 15 years of experience with reintroducing wolves. When the current rule declared wolves in the wild “nonessential” there were only 11 wolves, recently released from a captive breeding program and they made up only 7% of all Mexican wolves in the world. Now the 75 wolves in the wild have up to four generations of experience in establishing packs and raising pups and are over 22% of all of the Mexican wolves in the world. After four more generations of captive breeding with few releases (only one in the last five years), scientists warn that there may be serious genetic problems making captive wolves less able to thrive in the wild
THE FOURTH GENERATION WILD LOBOS ARE NOT EXPENDABLE AND ARE AN ESSENTIAL PART OF RECOVERING THIS UNIQUE SUBSPECIES OF WOLF
The proposed rule puts the cart before the horse and should come with or after — not before — an updated recovery plan.
USFWS admits that their present, typewritten, 1982 recovery plan is not scientifically sound and does not meet current legal requirements — yet in its proposed rule USFWS continues to emphasize a woefully inadequate population of only 100 wolves in the wild. When USFWS published the current rule in 1998 they said they expected to put out a new recovery plan for the public to comment on later that year; 15 years later, there still is no scientific or legally adequate recovery plan!
The USFWS needs to QUIT STALLING AND COMPLETE A COMPREHENSIVE RECOVERY PLAN — AND LET THE PUBLIC SEE IT — BEFORE DOING ANY TINKERING WITH THE CURRENT RULE (except for allowing wolves to be reintroduced into additional suitable places)
Thank you for giving the wolves a voice!!
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