A rider attached to the federal budget deal overturns a court decision keeping wolves on the endangered species list. Image: Flickr/tombako the jaguar CC-BY-SA

Wolves will be removed from the endangered species list in Idaho and Montana as directed by a rider attached to the federal budget deal. Removing gray wolves from the endangered species list allows state wildlife agencies to control the population, which was the federal government’s intention before environmental groups got involved. The wolf budget rider establishes a precedent for politicizing the endangered species list that has alarmed environmental groups.

Wolves: a passionate political issue

When the federal budget deal was approved, a federal court decision in favor of environmental groups preventing the Interior Department from taking gray wolves off the endangered species list in Idaho and Montana was overturned. The rider also precludes judicial review of the measure. The budget rider on wolves was backed by Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. Since their re-introduction in the northern Rockies in the mid-1990s, gray wolves have become a passionate political issue among hunters, ranchers and environmentalists. Hunters are concerned about wolves preying on declining moose and elk herds. Ranchers are dealing with increasing incidents of livestock killed by wolves. Environmentalists advocate the economic benefits of eco-tourists who come to the region to view the wolves. With his wolf budget rider, Tester, who is up for re-election in 2012, managed to score political points with two out of three.

The wildly successful wolf recovery plan

After being hunted to near extinction in the continental U.S. by the mid-1930s, the federal government launched a gray wolf recovery plan in the northern Rockies in 1995. Since then, the wolf recovery plan has been successful beyond the most optimistic expectations. The gray wolf population in the region is estimated at about 1,650 — twice the original goal of the plan. The federal wolf recovery plan called for removing gray wolves from the endangered species list in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming once target populations were reached. When states submitted a wolf management plan approved by the Interior Department, the animals would be delisted and state wildlife agencies would manage them as game. Wyoming has yet to have a plan approved. Idaho and Montana have federally approved wolf management plans and a wolf hunt took place in the fall of 2009. But environmentalists sued and won a court decision that put gray wolves back on the endangered species list in Idaho and Montana.

Congress sets a controversial precedent

While the issue has been mired in court, evidence has emerged that the rapidly expanding wolf population in the northern Rockies is destroying herds of big-game animals and damaging tourism, hunting and agriculture. Last week, the Idaho legislature approved a bill giving the governor the power to cull the state’s estimated 800 wolves by declaring them a “disaster emergency” on par with a flood or wildfire. Even though the wolf budget rider frees the federal government to follow the wolf recovery plan as it was originally written, environmentalists argue that Congress had set a dangerous precedent that in the future will allow politics to prevail over the scientific approach of the Endangered Species Act.

Sources

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/13/us/politics/13wolves.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

USA Today: http://travel.usatoday.com/destinations/dispatches/post/2011/04/wolves-hunting-tourism-montana-idaho-budget-yellowstone-national-park/155666/1

Mother Nature Network: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/blogs/gray-wolves-off-the-endangered-species-list-sort-of

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