Gray wolves deserve continued protection: Guest opinion
For two years, a lone gray wolf has traversed rugged Oregon terrain and crossed invisible state borders searching for a mate. The wolf, known as OR-7, is one of only 64 gray wolves known to roam Oregon and he was the first known wolf to enter California in decades. Since he split from his fledgling northeastern Oregon pack, his 3,000 mile journey has been chronicled by local and national press and captured the attention of many in Oregon and beyond.
Gray wolves like OR-7 were not always so rare in the West. Once common on the American frontier, state-led eradication efforts killed nearly every gray wolf in the country by the 1930s.
A successful recovery plan was started by the Reagan Administration in 1987. Because of protections granted under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), gray wolves have begun a strong comeback in a number of states.
But that recovery is about to end.
Three years ago, swayed by special interests and conservative western states, Congress foolishly voted to end ESA protections in Idaho, Montana, and parts of Oregon, Washington, and Utah and allowing extermination once again. In 2012, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) removed protections for wolves in Wyoming.
One of these states—Idaho—has turned back the clock, resurrecting the same extermination programs that landed the gray wolf on the endangered species list in the first place. Earlier this year, the governor of Idaho announced he would dedicate $2 million in state taxpayer funds to eradicate gray wolves throughout the state. More than 20 wolves have recently been gunned down more on the Idaho/Montana border.
As Idaho continues down this path, the federal government has no legal authority to stop the killing, having already willingly ceded the protections wolves were afforded under the ESA. Similarly, they were unable to stop the killing of a wolf pack in a federal wilderness area in January. When wolves cannot roam free in a federal wilderness area, something is clearly wrong.
Now, compounding the error of removing ESA protections for the wolf in the Western United States, FWS has proposed removing protections for all gray wolves in the lower 48 states. This decision was based on a single study, written by four scientists on FWS payroll, claiming gray wolves had recovered and were no longer in need of ESA protection. The study was published in a largely unknown FWS journal that had been dormant since 1991 to avoid the kind of rigorous scrutiny that is demanded in prominent scientific publications.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has said that FWS’s decision to delist the gray wolf is “about the science, and you do what the science says.”
I completely agree. That’s why I pushed FWS to take a harder look at the science behind this ill-conceived proposal. Recently, FWS begrudgingly released that peer review from an independent, objective panel of top experts in the fields of ecology, taxonomy and genetics.
The reviewers unanimously found FWS did not use the “best available science” when it decided to remove the gray wolf from protections under the ESA. The reviewers said that FWS accepted unproven science uncritically while it disregarded conflicting data outright.
FWS should not ignore the chorus of voices opposing its rule, and it certainly should not ignore the many experts who are skeptical of the “science” behind the decision. If it does, it will hand responsibility of gray wolf survival to cash-strapped states that are too ill-equipped to manage or too indifferent to care. Many would declare open season on one of America’s most iconic wild animals, just as Idaho has done, and long before their recovery is a reality.
What is the point of decades of work and millions of taxpayer dollars to save a species, only to allow it to be hunted into near-extinction once again?
If FWS moves forward with the proposed delisting, OR-7’s calling to establish his own pack will likely go unfulfilled. And what could be one of the greatest wildlife recovery stories of the Endangered Species Act will remain unfinished.
The conclusion of the peer review leaves no option but for FWS to rescind the proposed rule and continue federal protections that are essential to the long-term survival and recovery of gray wolves. It is the only way that gray wolves will ever reclaim their place as a keystone species of our great American landscapes.
Democrat Peter DeFazio, who represents Oregon’s 4th congressional district, serves on the House Natural Resources Committee.
By: Rep. Peter DeFazio
Source: The Oregonian