Trump’s Presidency Means the End of Wolves in the American West

Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House, along with the Republican Party’s reign in Congress, will be an unmitigated disaster for the environment. A witch hunt is already underway for federal employees who support the science of climate change. Protections for the 640 million acres of public land you and I own in this country are already being stripped away. Oil and gas extraction on public land is expected to be deregulated, and even coal—a heavily polluting, inefficient energy source the market has rendered obsolete—may see reinvestment. A victim of all of those programs, and even the target of specific GOP plans for eradication? The gray wolf, only recently reintroduced to western states to help check overpopulated elk and deer and restore balance to the natural food chain there.

Update: On January 17, 2017, Republican Senators introduced a bill nicknamed, “The War on Wolves Act.” If passed S.164 will not only remove ESA protections from wolves in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Wyoming, but it will also strip citizens of the right to challenge it in court. 

Where the Wolf Stands Today

It’s important to understand that the gray wolf, as a species, is not under threat overall—it’s just specific populations of wolves in certain geographic areas. There are approximately 60,000 wolves living in the wilds of Alaska and Canada. Those will only suffer the general impact of anti-environment policies, accelerated climate change, and habitat loss.

It’s the wolf populations reintroduced to the American West that GOP policy is directly targeting.

There’s also a population of more than 3,500 gray wolves in and around the Great Lakes—in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota—that, to a lesser extent, is also threatened.

Wolves were first brought back to the West in 1995, when 66 were brought from Canada to Yellowstone National Park and Idaho. The Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Plan also allowed for the natural southern dispersal of other wolf populations from Canada. Since then, the species has spread to Montana, Wyoming, Washington, and Oregon, and now there’s even a single pack living in Northern California. The population of wolves in those states is approaching 1,700—a huge success story for conservationists, albeit one that’s still ongoing. Wolves numbered 2 million on this continent just a couple hundred years ago but were killed off as modern civilization expanded westward.

As part of the reintroduction, the burgeoning population of gray wolves in the West was initially protected by the Endangered Species Act. Largely due to the controversial nature of the wolf reintroduction that we’ll get to a little later, however, those protections have variously been repealed, replaced, and repealed again at federal and local levels. Wolf populations have returned to just 10 percent of their original range in the West, making their existence there still tenuous and dependent on some sort of protection.

Watch: How Wolves Change Rivers

Why We Need Wolves

As an apex predator, wolves create a trophic cascade of benefits in their ecosystem, restoring balance the whole way down the food chain. (This process is explained very well in the video embedded above.)

In Yellowstone, for instance, the reintroduction of wolves corrected an imbalance caused by the unchecked expansion of ungulates. Historically, wolves kept the elk population in balance in that area; without them, the elk became too numerous and their movements too static. Grasslands were overgrazed. Willows, cottonwood, and aspen were damaged, destroying the riparian habitats of beavers, songbirds, otters, muskrats, ducks, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. Wolves fixed that. They also checked the population of coyotes, which preyed heavily on small animals. So those populations returned, too, along with the birds of prey that feed on them. The revitalized shrubbery produced more berries, expanding the bear population. The entire ecosystem benefited and was returned to balance by the mere reintroduction of a handful of wolves. It’s that whole circle of life thing that Elton John once sang about in that Disney movie.

Can wolves restore balance to ecosystems elsewhere in their historic range? This study, published in the scientific journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, suggests they can, and that they may also enable the successful coexistence of invasive species with their native counterparts. The study argues that allowing the return of apex predators like the wolf may be much cheaper than trying to manage these environments through human methods.

Need a dollar amount to define their value? Wolves bring in more than $35 million a year of tourist spending to the Yellowstone area. Local businesses benefit from the mere presence of wolves.

Why Republicans Are Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf

Wolves kill and eat stuff. As described above, that’s their job. Things they like to kill and eat include things people like to kill and eat—primarily deer and elk, but also sometimes sheep and cattle. Which makes us rivals. Between 1995 and 2005, wolves killed 213 cattle and 173 sheep in Wyoming. The elk population has also fallen since the reintroduction of wolves, though drought, disease, and hunting also play a role. There were 17,000 elk in the park when the reintroduction began. Today there are 4,844.

Perhaps due to an exaggerated presence of wolves in nursery rhymes and fairy tales, we humans also find them scary. There have been only six documented fatalities due to wild wolves (two of which were rabid) in North America in the past 100 years. The number of people killed by wolves pales in comparison to the number of people who die each year due to, say, bee stings (in the United States, that’s 100 people every year). Others complain that the loss of livestock hurts ranchers’ livelihood, even though state governments compensate ranchers for any losses. Still others lament the decrease in lucrative guided elk hunts in wolf states, though that has largely been attributed to an increase in out-of-state tag prices.

Politicians from rural areas have been pressured to address those unsubstantiated fears of their constituents, but that doesn’t come close to explaining the scale of the GOP’s war on wolves. The 114th Congress (2015–17) introduced 20 bills targeted at eliminating protections for the gray wolf alone. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) called it “the most anti-wildlife Congress we’ve ever had.” Until the 115th, that is.

Why exhaust so much time and energy attacking a single species? The real answer is that the protections wolves require in the West can run counter to the interests of industrial agriculture businesses and the oil and gas industry, both of which want to operate on land that is currently subject to protection because it’s wolf habitat.

The anti-wolf policies being paid for in part by industrial agriculture are actually damaging the small, family-owned farms where problems with wolves killing livestock actually take place and which are often cited as the cause for these policies. It’s been scientifically demonstrated that killing problem wolves actually leads to a direct correlation in increased livestock depredation. The killings disrupt pack order and disperse wolves into new areas, and weakened packs are forced to seek easier prey than the wild animals they’d otherwise focus on.

The CBD has tracked donations from those industries to Congress and compared them with the number of bills introduced that threaten the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As campaign donations from the oil and gas industry and industrial agriculture have increased, so too have legislative assaults on the ESA. Because wolves have large ranges, the ESA may prevent energy extraction or industrial farming across larger areas than some other species. That explains the focus on removing the wolf’s protections.

trump-wolves-chart
Campaign donations to Congress versus anti-ESA bills. Confused by the huge uptick in bills coming after the increase in donations? Remember that these are campaign donations, and the bills they buy only come after the congressmen and senators are elected. America! (Illustration: CBD)

How Republicans Will Kill the Wolf

In 1973, partly motivated by the plight of the bald eagle, President Richard Nixon called on Congress to take action to protect species on the verge of extinction. Congress created the Endangered Species Act by a nearly unanimous vote. Bald eagle populations have since increased from a low of 417 mating pairs to more than 11,000 today. That species was delisted (removed from the ESA’s protections) in 2007, although it remains subject to other protections as our national bird. Today, the ESA protects more than 1,600 endangered plants and animals.

As a depressing side note, Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico threatens the bald eagle, as well as 111 endangered species.

Not every animal protected by the ESA is a success story. Due to the precarious nature of many of the species it protects, delistings are infrequent. Take, for instance, the case of the Death Valley pupfish. Only a handful exist in two ponds in Death Valley National Park. Totally isolated, it’s obviously unrealistic to expect that the species will ever expand its population enough that it will ever be considered anything but endangered. Does the pupfish deserve our protection? Environmentalists would say yes. And the law has prevented extinction for 99 percent of the species it protects. But Republicans argue no, because only 1 percent have been rehabilitated.

“It has never been used for the rehabilitation of species. It’s been used for control of the land,” argues House National Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah). He has stated that he “would love to invalidate” the ESA.

A representative survey of registered voters across the United States conducted in 2015 found that 90 percent supported the ESA.

The Associated Press reports that congressional Republicans are preparing to amend the ESA, transforming it “from a tool to protect huge areas of habitat for imperiled species into little more than limits on hunting for protected animals.”

The wolf’s protection under the ESA has always been precarious. Due to the politically charged nature of their reintroduction, initial population targets that would trigger a delisting were set incredibly low—just 150 in Idaho, for instance. That didn’t sound like a viable population to wolf advocates, so, since the species started triggering delistings shortly after its reintroduction, its status has bounced back and forth both nationally and locally in a process of litigation and lawsuits so confusing and asinine that I’ll spare you a recap of it here.

Want to know what happens to wolves without ESA protection? Since 2009, when protections there began to erode, Idaho has killed 1,470 of its wolves, and the state government hopes to reduce Idaho’s wolf population from a high of 856 back to that lowest limit of 150 by 2018.

To the best of my understanding, wolves are currently protected by the ESAeverywhere in the lower 48 with the exception of Montana, Idaho, and the eastern third of both Washington and Oregon. In large part, those protections are thanks to lawsuits conducted by environmental organizations like the CBD. Acknowledging that, Republican lawmakers have begun introducing anti-wolf laws as riders on essential budget bills, disturbingly including language that prevents legal challenge.

Trump has yet to go on the record about either the ESA or wolves, but he does oppose environmental policies that get in the way of drilling. It’s not expected that he’d veto any legislation designed to weaken or repeal the ESA or any riders intended to remove wolf protection. Trump’s nominee for interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, who will manage the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers ESA programs, once sent out a Christmas card featuring a dead wolf. Last year, Zinke co-sponsored a bill designed to remove federal protections for wolves. It looks like the anti-wolf, anti-ESA Republican Congress is finally getting both the president it needs to rubber stamp this legislation, combined with an administrator of the Department of the Interior prepared to carry it out.

In addition to both that rollback of the ESA and likely direct challenges to the wolf’s inclusion in it, wolves are under threat from the GOP’s plan to steal our public lands. Like all wild animals, wolves need habitat to survive. Development of resource extraction on those lands will further threaten them.

Trump-Wolves-Card
This was the Christmas card Trump’s pick for interior secretary sent out in 2011. Note the dead wolf.(Illustration: Office of Ryan Zinke)

What You Can Do About It

Well, you could start by not voting for politicians who drum up support based on manufactured and exaggerated populist issues, and then work to steal from you once they’re in office. Like the public land heist, the war on wolves is another great example of that. If killing wolves results in increased wolf conflict for farmers, if wolves pose virtually no risk to human life, and if they’re essential to ecosystem rehabilitation in the West while bringing in tens of millions in tourist dollars, then remind me why we’re going to spend a bunch of taxpayer money killing them? Especially when 90 percent of us support the ESA. And you can stop voting for these jerks and enabling this behavior just because you think they’ll lower your taxes. They won’t.

In the meantime, you can call and write your congressional representatives. Tell them you support the ESA, you don’t want them to steal our land, and that you oppose any legislation intended to remove wolf protection. While you’re at it, maybe ask them to start working in your interest, too.

You can also donate to organizations like the Center for Biological Diversityand Defenders of Wildlife. They’re the ones who will be fighting this legislation as much as possible through this historic assault on our environment, our wildlife, and our natural heritage.

Condemn Trump’s attacks on the Endangered Species Act!

 

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The Trump administration has drastically weakened the Endangered Species Act, one of our nation’s longest-standing environmental protection laws.

 

They’re taking away protections for endangered and threatened wildlife in order to pave the way for more drilling, mining, and development in our nation’s most pristine wildlife areas.

 

We cannot let this stand. Together, we can build the momentum to force the Trump administration to back down and restore the protections that they’re taking away.

Add your name to condemn the Trump administration’s attacks on the Endangered Species Act today!

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5 animals you may see at the beach, thanks to Endangered Species Act

5 animals you may see at the beach, thanks to Endangered Species Act
© Getty Images

Beach season is here. It’s time to frolic in the surf or lie in the sand, contemplating the vast ocean. But as you enjoy your time in the sun, take a moment to appreciate the wildlife that’s still swimming or scampering past you thanks to the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

It’s easy to get discouraged by environmental news these days. Our oil addiction is fueling a climate crisis and killing our coral reefs. Plastic pollution is accumulating in our oceans. And the biggest mass extinctionin human history is underway — being actively worsened by the Trump administration’s reckless policies.

Of the 31 populations studied, just two species declined after being protected under this landmark law: Hawaiian monk seals and Southern Resident killer whales. Not only were all sea turtle species recovering, but their median population increased a whopping 980 percent, reversing the path to extinction that many species were on.

Our oceans are still struggling to recover from decades of destructive fishing practices and industrial pollution. And we have yet to really grapple with the ocean warming and acidification driven by burning fossil fuels.

But as we visit our beautiful beaches, let’s feel hope and gratitude for the natural bounty surrounding us — and pledge to protect it.

Here are five endangered animals you may spot on a visit to the coast.

Sea otters

The world offers few more adorable sights than a sea otter’s furry face popping out of the ocean. Maybe you’ll even see it float onto its back and crack a clam open on its belly with a rock.

California sea otters were almost wiped out by coastal development, pollution and oil spills, but conservation efforts helped the population off California’s coast rebound to around 3,000 — well below their historic numbers, but still an exciting improvement. Sea otters are particularly vulnerable to oil pollution, so they’re threatened by current proposals to expand offshore drilling in the Pacific and restart ExxonMobil’s dormant offshore platforms.

Snowy plovers

As you walk along the water’s edge, you’ll probably see shorebirds skittering in and out with the tide, snacking on crustaceans, insects and worms. Some of the smallest and cutest are the snowy plovers, which generally have a white chest and face and a brown and grey cloak of feathers. But they’ve been disappearing from beaches on the West Coast and in the Caribbean as humans and their pets trample their fragile eggs. Active conservation measures are helping; please look out for plover warning signs and keep your dog on a leash if you see any.

Sea Turtles

Endangered sea turtles’ recovery has been an amazing Endangered Species Act success story, but it’s still being written. The act has protected nesting beaches from development and lighting that disorients baby turtles. It’s also required most shrimp boats in the Gulf of Mexico to include turtle excluder devices to prevent these ancient creatures from being caught and killed in the nets.

But threats remain. Ocean plastic pollution chokes turtles and interferes with their reproduction. Industrial fishing practices like longline fishing decimated Pacific leatherbacks and other endangered turtles. Longline fishing was banned off California’s coast, but the Trump administration and fishing industry are now trying to reintroduce and expand it — so appreciate sea turtles and support a happy ending to their success story.

Monk seals

Hawaiian monk seals are among the world’s most endangered marine mammals, hovering perilously close to extinction with less than 1,000 remaining. They’re native to all the Hawaiian islands, but they’ve been harmed by predation, a lack of food and habitat loss. Climate change and sea-level rise are looming threats that lend urgency to efforts to stabilize the monk seal population now.

Federal and state conservation agencies have taken steps to protect their habitat and reintroduce them to the main Hawaiian islands they’ve disappeared from. If you see one on a visit to Hawaii, please keep your distance.

Humpback whales

These are the whales you see breaching and jumping in fantastic displays. After humpbacks were hunted nearly to extinction, the Endangered Species Act helped pull them back from the brink and put them on the road to recovery. To protect these amazing animals from deadly entanglements, commercial fishing gear has recently been better regulated along the California coast. For example, the commercial California Dungeness crab season ended early to avoid harming whales during their spring migration.

Whales are the largest animals on Earth, and it’s humbling to watch them swim along our coast. Once seen only as food or fuel, they’re a powerful testament to the enduring possibilities of conservation. If you spot one this summer, enjoy — and let the memory inspire you to protect our oceans.

U.S. plans to lift protections for gray wolves, angering wildlife activists

U.S. wildlife officials plan to lift protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states, re-igniting the legal battle over a predator that’s running into conflicts with farmers and ranchers as its numbers rebound in some regions.

The proposal would give states the authority to hold wolf hunting and trapping seasons. It was announced Wednesday by acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt at a wildlife conference in Denver.

Wolves had previously lost federal protections in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, where hunters and trappers now kill hundreds of the animals annually.

Wildlife advocates and some members of Congress reacted with outrage to the latest proposal and promised to challenge any final decision in court.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now with the group Defenders of Wildlife, warned of an “all-out war on wolves” if the plan advances.

“We don’t have any confidence that wolves will be managed like other wildlife,” she said.

But government officials countered that the recovery of wolves from widespread extermination last century has worked and they no longer need the Endangered Species Act to shield them.

“Recovery of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act is one of our nation’s great conservation successes, with the wolf joining other cherished species, such as the bald eagle, that have been brought back from the brink,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Gavin Shire said in an emailed statement.

Agriculture groups and lawmakers from Western states are likely to support the administration’s proposal.

Further details were expected during a formal announcement planned in coming days.

Long despised by farmers and ranchers, wolves were shot, trapped and poisoned out of existence in most of the U.S. by the mid-20th century.

They received endangered species protections in 1975, when there were about 1,000 left, only in northern Minnesota. Now more than 5,000 of the animals live in the contiguous U.S.

es and Northern Rockies regions.

Protections for the Northern Rockies population were lifted in 2011. State officials and government biologists say the region’s wolves have continued to thrive despite pressure from hunting. The animals are prolific breeders and can adapt to a variety of habitats.

Wildlife advocates want to keep federal protections kept in place until wolves repopulate more of a historical range that stretched across most of North America.

Since being reintroduced in Yellowstone National park and central Idaho in the mid-1990s, the Northern Rockies population has expanded to parts of Oregon, Washington and California.

Those states so far have not allowed hunting, despite growing pressure from ranchers whose livestock herds have been attacked.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has argued for years that gray wolves have recovered in the lower 48 states, despite experts who contend they occupy only about 15 percent of the territory they once roamed. Agency officials insist the recovery of wolves everywhere is not required for the species no longer to be in danger of extinction.

John Vucetich, a wildlife biologist at Michigan Technological University, said most wolf experts probably would agree the species is not at imminent risk. But said he dropping federal protections was a premature move.

Many people “still find it difficult to live with wolves,” primarily because they kill livestock as well as deer and elk that people like to hunt, Vucetich said. If wolves are returned to state management, he said, “I do worry that some of the states could be overly aggressive and that wolves could fare worse than their current condition.”

The government first proposed revoking the wolf’s protected status across the Lower 48 states in 2013. It backed off after federal courts struck down its plan for “delisting” the species in the western Great Lakes region states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials disclosed to the AP last year that another scientific review of the animal’s status had been launched.

Shire declined to disclose the agency’s rationale for determining the species had recovered, but said members of the public would have a chance to comment before a final decision in coming months.

Ryan Yates, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, applauded the federal agency’s plan and said many farmers and ranchers have lost livestock to wolf kills since the species was granted legal protections. The farmers and ranchers will respect state regulations aimed at managing wolf populations, he said.

“Some people like them, some people don’t, but the law’s the law,” Yates said.

Lawmakers in Congress frustrated with court rulings maintaining protections for wolves have backed legislation to forcibly strip protections in the Great Lakes region and beyond. A similar effort by lawmakers ended protections for Northern Rockies wolves.

Flesher reported from Traverse City, Michigan. Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus contributed from Portland.

Beloved Yellowstone Wolf ‘Spitfire’ Killed By Trophy Hunter

The wild wolf, also known as 926F, died the same way her famous mother did in 2012.

A wild wolf beloved by wolf watchers and biologists who visit Yellowstone National Park has been shot dead by a hunter.

The 7-year-old female wolf, known to scientists as Lamar Canyon Wolf Pack member 926F, had wandered just outside Yellowstone last weekend and was legally killed by a trophy hunter.

Nicknamed “Spitfire” by wolf enthusiasts, the slain she-wolf was the daughter of famous alpha female 824F, who inspired the book American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West.

824F ― best known as “06” (a reference to the year she was born) ― was a tourist favorite at Yellowstone and the leader of the Lamar Canyon pack until she was killed by a hunter in 2012.

926F, also known as "Spitfire," was killed by a hunter last month after wandering just outside Yellowstone National Park.

MARK PERRY VIA GETTY IMAGES
926F, also known as “Spitfire,” was killed by a hunter last month after wandering just outside Yellowstone National Park.

“The 06 Legacy,” a Facebook group for wolf lovers, honored 926F’s life in a Facebook post Wednesday.

“926F showed incredible strength, courage and resilience in everything she did,” the Facebook post says. “She had a special bond with her daughter Little T and they stayed together all these years.”

The post continued: “We had so much to celebrate when we saw five strong and healthy pups this fall. And now it took just one bullet and 926F is gone. Just like her mother 06 and her uncle 754M before her. With current wolf management practices, the tragedy just doesn’t end. … Rest In Peace our beautiful Queen.”

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks confirmed Spitfire was legally killed by a trophy hunter less than five miles from the northeast entrance of Yellowstone.

The beloved wolf’s death has reignited calls for a buffer around Yellowstone, a hunting-free zone, to protect animals who wander beyond the park’s invisible boundary.

“Perhaps Montana should take a closer look at the economics of wolf hunting,” the New York-based Wolf Conservation Center wrote in a blog post Wednesday. “Seems that Yellowstone wolves are worth a lot more alive than dead.”

U.S. House Prepares for Radical Assault Against Endangered Species Act

Legislation led by Rep. Sean Duffy Would Enable Trophy Hunting, Snaring of Small, Recovering Population of Wolves

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives will conduct floor debate on H.R. 6784, the so-called “Manage our Wolves Act” led by U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI-07). The legislation would short-circuit multiple federal court rulings against premature de-listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and put Congress in the position of cherry-picking the species it wants off the endangered species list. The measure, which may likely pass the lower chamber, is scheduled for a vote of the full House on Friday morning and the debate can be viewed here.

Gray wolves, virtually eradicated between 1850 and 1920 during westward expansion, have had a slow walk back from near extinction. For decades, federal and state governments executed ruthless and effective predator control programs – a slaughter that stands alongside the massacre of bison as the most wanton chapters in the history of American wildlife management, and they’ve only recently began to recover.

“We’re shocked and dismayed that Congress would return to work and make killing endangered wolves its first order of business,” said Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action. “It has half a dozen animal welfare bills with 218 cosponsors, but instead chooses to act on a special-interest bill with four cosponsors that is a priority for a handful of trophy hunters and ranchers. It’s so disappointing to see my fellow Republicans in the House show such disregard for animal welfare and to leave such a merciless legacy.”

Wolves now occupy habitat in about 10 states with an estimated population of only 5,000 in the lower 48 states – covering millions of square miles of space. These endangered icons play a critical role in their native ecosystems, in checking the growth of prey populations, restoring stream flows, and reducing flooding and bank erosion. Wolf predation helps maintain healthy deer populations, lowering the frequency of deer-auto collisions and prevalence of crop losses. They mitigate impacts on vegetation and bring vitality to entire ecosystems that saves private citizens and governments tens of millions of dollars a year, while also generating millions in tourism yearly.

https://mailchi.mp/animalwellnessaction.org/us-house-prepares-for-radical-assault-against-endangered-species-act-2197737?fbclid=IwAR3drDS-zGvW9EJUVE3vmOK2Nh4BBbKqRiO4tFjRd1MtxS1_ttsEvyZPZ3c

Grizzly Bears Are Now the Victims of the Trump Administration’s Climate Denialism

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2017/06/we_can_t_trust_this_administration_s_climate_decisions.html

We can’t trust this administration to make science-based decisions.

A female Grizzly bear exits Pelican Creek October 8, 2012 in the Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
A female grizzly bear exits Pelican Creek on Oct. 8, 2012, in Yellowstone National Park.

Karen Bleier/AFP/GettyImages

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Thursday that the Yellowstone grizzly bear will no longer be listed as protected under the Endangered Species Act. The grizzly’s population has rebounded and it now “stands as one of America’s great conservation successes,” he crowed.

A species being removed from the ESA is rare and, in normal circumstances, should be celebrated. It means that a population has recovered enough to no longer require extra protections, which should be considered a good thing. And the grizzly bear has: When the species was listed in the 1970s, it was estimated that a mere 150 existed. Today, there are about 700 individuals.

This decision, however, seems unlikely to be met with applause. As the New York Times reports, environmental organizations are already lining up to sue to stop it. And 125 Native American tribes have banded together to oppose the delisting because they weren’t consulted in the decision-making. Also, any good feelings animal lovers get from the words “conservation success story” are likely to be squashed by the fact that the delisting means the bears could now be hunted. People really don’t like it when charismatic megafauna get killed.

Should the grizzly bear be delisted—or this just yet another awful environmental move by the Trump administration, divorced from science and decency? One political litmus test is to check what the Obama administration thought of the grizzly bear’s fate. In March 2016, Dan Ashe, then the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, defended the delisting. And the recovery numbers do look strong (700 sure sounds small, but Yellowstone grizzlies are a top-of-the-food-chain predator living in a small land mass—what matters more is the populations’ stability, not its size).

But scientists have dramatically different opinions about how to read those numbers. Luke Whelan over at Wired has a good rundown of how the two sides of the debate see the issue. One school of thought says that because the bears’ populations have plateaued, that means they’ve hit the carrying capacity, or the number of animals the habitat can sustain, and are in good shape. Under this logic, delisting makes sense. The counterargument suggests that the carrying capacity is lower than it should be because its habitat and food sources have changed since the bear was listed in the ’70s, primarily due to climate change—which means that the bear needs to stay protected. In fact, most of the environmental groups planning to sue over the move basically want to keep the bear listed because of the threat climate change will increasingly pose. And climate change does pose a threat—warmer temperatures are causing white pine beetles to move further and further into grizzly habitat, killing pine trees and hurting a critical food source.

Who’s right? It’s hard to say definitively—it depends on how you read the science, and how you think the ESA should be applied based on that science. Arguing that climate change is going to pose a threat to an animal and therefore warrants (somewhat) proactive listing is a tough sell—honestly, on a long enough scale, climate change and the cascading food chain and habitat problems could justify listing most animals on the ESA. That would be an interesting precedent to set. It’s also unclear how ESA protection could help address the pine beetle problem. The ESA has limited resources and offers limited protections—indeed, many conservationists think it is actually most successful when wielded as a stick to inspire (or coerce) proactive solutions before a species requires listing, rather than as a real way to solve environmental problems. And through that lens, it’s clear that what the grizzly bear really needs is for climate change to be taken seriously, and minimized. The ESA can’t force that—it’s not equipped to.

When the government is this bad at accepting basic truths, it makes it hard to have faith that their decisions are good ones—even decisions that seem positive or reasonable. It also creates a world in which we have to fight to keep species listed on the ESA because we know we’re not going to do much else to stop climate change from screwing them over in the long run. It is exhausting and demoralizing to live in a world like this.

Wolves being Booted Back to the Brink

Article posted by C.A.S.H. Committee To Abolish Sport Hunting

CLICK HERE for more from CASH COURIER NEWSLETTER, Winter/Spring 2018

By Jim Robertson

This article includes excerpts from Exposing the Big Game: Targets of a Dying Sport. Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

wolf
Photo by Jim Robertson

Although “From the Brink of Oblivion and Back Again” was the title I gave to one of two chapters I devoted to the plight of wolves in my book Exposing the Big Game: Living Targets of a Dying Sport, I still hadn’t fully realized just how apt that title would soon be. At that time, wolves were federally protected and their removal from the Endangered Species List was just someone’s bad idea that had yet to see its dark day. Frankly, I thought we would be a little more evolved as a species by now.

But over and over states have proven themselves unworthy by declaring open seasons on wolves, without regard for the species’ future or for the welfare of individual wolves. Indeed, the ongoing warlike attack on wolves is anything but sporting or humane, with kill methods ranging from traps and snares to aerial hunting, running them down with dogs or luring them in and sniping at entire packs with semi-automatic rifles—depending on a given state’s predilection.

At the same time, many hunters and trappers go out of their way to express their hatred for wolves through horrific acts of overkill. Taking sick pleasure in further degrading their victims by glibly posing in morbid photos of trapped or bloodied wolves, they spread their snuff shots across the internet fishing for praise, while taunting wolf advocates.

For thousands of years, wolves played a central role as keepers of nature’s balance across the American landscape. Wolves are the personification of untamed wilderness; their presence is a sign of an ecosystem relatively intact.

But bigotry toward wolves has thrived across the country since colonial times and wolves have long been the object of unwarranted phobias. Today’s wolf-haters panic at the thought of natural predators competing for “their” trophy “game” animals and loath anything that might threaten their exploitive way of life. They view the federal government as the enemy in their ongoing combat against wilderness, and grasp for local control of species like wolves, who, until recently, were all but extinct in the continental U.S. Far from being their foe however, the federal government has actually been a fervent ally.

The contentious removal of wolves from the federal endangered species list—long before they were truly recovered—was a coldly calculated course set in motion by the Bush Administration, dutifully followed by the Obama Administration and rendered the law of the land through an underhanded act of Congress in 2011. This crooked covenant, conjured up for the sake of ranchers and trophy hunters, left the wolves’ fate in the custody of hostile western states…and fits right in with a centuries-old, historic norm.

In 1630, Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony—known for holding the first Thanksgiving Day celebration…and Salem witch hunts—felt biblically impelled and duty-bound to “subdue the earth.” Hence, they were the first to establish a bounty on wolves. Soon the other colonies followed their example and set bounties of their own, and a systematic genocide of wolves in America spread west with the “settling” of the land.

In 1818, Ohio declared a “War of Extermination” against wolves and bears. Iowa began their wolf bounty in 1858; in 1865 and 1869 Wisconsin and Colorado followed suit. State by state wolves were shot, trapped and poisoned to extinction. As the demand for wolf pelts increased, “wolfers” began killing grazers like elk or bison and poisoning the meat as bait, decimating whole packs of unsuspecting canines in one fell swoop.

By 1872, the year President Grant created Yellowstone National Park, 100,000 wolves were being annihilated annually. 5,450 were killed in 1884 in Montana alone, after a wolf bounty was initiated there. By the end of 1886, a total of 10,261 wolves were offered up for bounty (sixteen times Montana’s 2011 population of 653 “recovered” wolves). Wyoming enacted their bounty in 1875 and in 1913 set a penalty of $300 for freeing a wolf from a trap.

Not to be outdone, the US government began a federal poisoning program in 1915 that would finish off the rest of the wolves in the region—including Yellowstone. By 1926 wolves had been completely extirpated from America’s premier national park.

Having no more regard for wolves than those who originally caused their extinctions, willfully-ignorant wolf-haters in the tri-state area of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have not received their reintroduction with open arms but rather with loaded arms, hoping to turn the clock back to the dark ages of centuries past. The posture they assume on the subject of wolves is as warped and ill-informed as any Massachusetts witch hunter’s.

With the wolf population in the tri-state area at only a fraction of its historic sum, the federal government unceremoniously removed them from the endangered species list (and consequently from federal protection) in 2009, casting their “management” (read: re-eradication) into the clutches of eager states that wasted no time implementing wolf hunting seasons. Montana quickly sold 15,603 wolf permits, while their confederates in Idaho snatched up 14,000 permits to hunt the long-tormented canids.

For its part, Wyoming has stubbornly held to a policy mandating that wolves be shot on sight anytime they wander outside Yellowstone, allegedly to safeguard range cattle (who are actually 147 times more likely to fall prey to intestinal parasites). Wolves have killed a grand total of only 26 cows (out of 1.3 million head of cattle in the state). Still, the livestock industry is in control of their wolf management decisions. Though hunters there have killed 74 wolves this season, the state of Wyoming has expanded and extended its season indefinitely, declaring an open, year-round hunt on them. Winter, spring and summertime hunts are particularly harsh since this is when wolves are denning and raising their newborn pups.

wolf
Photo by Jim Robertson

On the other side of Yellowstone, the disingenuously but suitably named “Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition,” backed by a well-funded trophy elk hunting industry, filed and circulated an initiative petition in 2008 calling for the removal of “all” wolves there “by whatever means necessary.” Fortunately, even in the state famous for potatoes, militias and neo-Nazi compounds, they failed to gain enough public support to move forward with their avaricious initiative. Even so, the Idaho government has been quietly carrying out the “whatever means” approach by adding aerial hunting, trapping, snaring and baiting to their wolf devastation arsenal. In just one season, 169 wolves were killed by trophy hunters in Idaho, while trappers there claimed the lives of 76.

It should come as no great jolt that Idaho hunters felt they could get away with asking for the renewed obliteration of an entire species—their governor, “Butch” Otter, publicly proclaimed he hoped to be the first to shoot a wolf as soon as they lost federal ESA protection. Failing that, Otter used his gubernatorial powers to declare his state a “wolf disaster area,” granting local sheriffs’ departments the power to destroy packs whenever they please.

“Meanwhile,” according to Defenders of Wildlife’s president, Jamie Rappaport Clark, “the federal government is sitting idly by as Idaho almost singlehandedly unravels one of our nation’s greatest wildlife conservation success stories. This is totally unheard of—never before has a species climbed its way back from near extinction only to be quickly decimated once again.”

Montana started out seeming to be the sensible state, appearing almost tolerant of wolves. But between their state legislature and their wildlife policy makers, they’ve made an about face and quickly caught up with their neighbors, displaying a total disregard for the public trust doctrine which holds that wildlife, having no owners, are res communes, belonging “in common to all of the citizens.” They’ve recently passed bills barring any protected zones outside Yellowstone Park, while legalizing silencers for wolf hunting and the use of recorded calls to attract wolves, as well as allowing five wolf tags per hunter, 12 years and older. (And a new state bill is proposing lowering the legal age of hunters to nine years old.) Legislators also proposed a cap of 250 on their state wolf population. Last year’s wolf hunt kill totals for Montana were 128 wolves shot to death and 97 killed in traps.

wolf

Since Congress stripped wolves of their Endangered Species status, an estimated 1,084 wolves have been killed in the Northern Rockies. Again, that’s ONE THOUSAND AND EIGHTY-FOUR living, breathing, social, intelligent wolves killed by scornful, fearful, vengeful and boastful hunters and trappers, often in the most hideous ways imaginable.

Thanks to a federal judge’s 2010 decision, the wolf was granted a one-year stay of execution. But in 2011 our federal legislators on Capitol Hill attached a rider to a budget bill circumventing that judgment. This serpentine, backbiting end-run around science and public opinion played right into the hands of anti-wolf fanatics in Idaho and Montana and cleared the way for the bloodiest butchery of wolves in almost a century. Case in point: the opening week of Montana’s nascent hunting season on wolves saw sportsmen set up just outside the park boundary gun down every adult in Yellowstone’s well-known and much-loved Cottonwood pack, leaving their dependent pups to starve. In just two years nearly 1,100 wolves have been ruthlessly murdered by hunters and trappers eager to relive the gory glory days of the 1800s.

All this is going on in spite of well-documented proof that wolves are beneficial to a given environment, and despite the fact that the majority of Americans, including most visitors to Yellowstone and the tri-state area, want to see wildlife unmolested. They are not there to hunt—the money they spend reflects their strong interest in the quiet enjoyment of nature.

Biologists studying the Yellowstone ecosystem have found that since their reintroduction to the park, wolves have kept elk herds on the move, thus allowing over-browsed streamside riparian habitats to regenerate. Among the species that rely on a healthy riparian zone—and therefore benefit from the presence of wolves—are moose, trumpeter swans, warblers, wrens, thrushes, beavers, muskrats and the Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Everywhere they’re found, wolves play an important role in maintaining the health of ungulate herds by preying primarily on infirm or diseased animals, ensuring a healthy gene pool. And the remains of their kills provide a welcome relief for hungry scavengers, from bears to ermine to wolverines to bald eagles.

But rather than stepping back and allowing wolves to solve their elk “problem,” “game” “managers” want to reduce the number of both elk and wolves. Their policies are not scientific; they’re downright kill-happy. As the late Canadian naturalist and author, R D Lawrence, stated in his book, In the Presence of Wolves: “Killing for sport, for fur, or to increase a hunter’s success by slaughtering predators is totally abhorrent to me. I deem such behavior to be barbaric…”

The 1996 reintroduction of wolves to the northern Rocky Mountains in Yellowstone and wilderness areas of Central Idaho as mandated by the Endangered Species Act–along with protections against hunting and trapping all too briefly afforded them under the ESA–gave the wolf a temporary reprieve and allowed Nature to reign again over some of her sovereign lands.

Yes, wolves are spreading out, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there are more of them; each time they find a given habitat hostile to them, they continue to branch out in search of someplace safer and more hospitable. The total wolf population of the tri-state area has fluctuated, reaching a high of around 2000 individuals. An impressive figure perhaps, unless you consider that 1,089 were killed this year (not including those killed by federal “Wildlife Services” agents); or that 10,261 wolves were destroyed between 1884 and 1886 in Montana alone; or even that 380,000 wolves once roamed the country.

While all this is going on, the Great Lakes states have been racking up a high wolf body count of their own. Wisconsin in particular seems to be bucking for a most merciless award—the cruelties they’ve unleashed on wolves are the stuff of nightmares. And even states, such as South Dakota, that don’t even have wolf populations are hastily re-classifying wolves from the status of protected to “varmint,” in the event that any lost wolf happens by.

With the return of widespread wolf hunting, it will take today’s anti-wolf bigots only a few years to boot this misunderstood embodiment of wilderness back to the brink of oblivion.


Jim Robertson is the President of C.A.S.H. and author of Exposing The Big Game.

CLICK HERE for more from CASH COURIER NEWSLETTER, Winter/Spring 2018

Harmful provisions in Congress’s spending bill would strip protections for wolves, reopen horse slaughter plants

By Kitty Block

  • Updated 
wolf
 

Photo: Alamy

As Congress works to finalize its FY18 spending bill to fund the federal government, key protections for animals are under attack.

Some members, beholden to special interests, are attempting to reopen horse slaughter plants in the United States, authorize the killing of thousands of healthy wild horses and burros, strip Endangered Species Act protections for Great Lakes wolves, and repeal a rule to prevent cruel and unjustified methods of killing grizzlies and wolf pups on National Park Service lands in Alaska.

It’s a tired old Washington story: attaching measures that could never pass on their own merits to important spending bills that must be approved frequently, as this one has to be, in order to keep the government running. Every year, it’s the same special interests with the same outrageous proposals, literally seeking to harm millions of animals with a few strokes of the pen or the keyboard. And every year, our program experts and the Humane Society Legislative Fund team dig in to hold the line, keeping a close eye on these harmful riders scattered through the House and Senate versions of the bill, and gearing up to defeat them.

You too can do your part to ensure that these provisions do not pass.

  • Allowing horse slaughter plants to reopen: While the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill includes language that would keep horse slaughter plants from operating in the United States, the House Appropriations Committee failed to include this “defund” language, which has been in the annual spending bill for most of the last several years. The defund language effectively bans horse slaughter for human consumption by preventing the U.S. Department of Agriculture from using funds to inspect these facilities. Allowing slaughter plants to open will costs millions of taxpayer dollars each year—a move that is both fiscally irresponsible and in conflict with our values as a nation.
  • Authorizing the slaughter of thousands of healthy wild horses and burros: The House Interior Appropriations bill contains an amendment to allow the Bureau of Land Management to kill thousands of healthy wild horses and burros. In all but one year since 1994, Congress’s final appropriations bills have included language to prevent this. Thankfully, the Senate bill includes that protective language but the House version is a problem.
  • Removing ESA protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes: Both chambers’ versions include language to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Further, the provision would bar judicial review of the action. This language overrides a federal appeals court ruling last year that maintained protections for wolves in the western Great Lakes region.
  • Blocking the implementation of a rule to prevent hunting grizzlies and wolf pups on National Preserves in Alaska: The House bill blocks implementation of a federal rule to prevent inhumane and scientifically unjustified hunting methods on National Preserves—a category of National Park Service land—in Alaska. These practices include luring grizzly bears with bait to shoot them at point-blank distance and killing wolf, black bear, and coyote mothers and their babies at their dens. Last February, Congress repealed a similar rule that protected predators on 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska. These issues are best left to robust regulatory processes, with input from the public, land managers, and scientific experts, rather than being subjected to the political whims of Congress.

Please act immediately to let your members of Congress know that you want this spending package to protect animals at risk from malicious legislation. Urge them to reject these harmful provisions in the spending bill, and to maintain vital animal welfare protections that most of the American public supports. Remind them that it’s a spending bill, not an opportunity for the defenders of cruelty.

Protect America’s horses and wildlife >>

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Wolf decision could undermine plan to remove grizzly bears from endangered list

  • ROB CHANEY rchaney@missoulian.com
  • 2 hrs ago

Wolves often harass grizzly bears in the wild, and now they’re challenging bear recovery in the courtroom.

An appeals court ruling in a federal lawsuit challenging how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed Great Lakes gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act list could unravel plans to delist grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The possibility raised enough alarm within the agency that it sent out a request for public comment on the topic last week.

“We had put our final delisting rule out in July and within a week we got the court opinion,” FWS grizzly recovery coordinator Hillary Cooley said during a meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee in Missoula on Tuesday. “The Great Lakes wolves were listed for the entire Lower 48 states, and then they carved out a DPS (Distinct Population Segment) and tried to delist them. That’s what we’ve done with the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, as well, so we thought we should take a look.”

Grizzly bears were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee has combined bear experts from the National Park Service, Forest Service, state wildlife agencies and other land managers for more than three decades on the task of removing threats to grizzly bear survival so the bears can be removed from the Endangered Species List.

In August, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed a lower-court ruling blocking the wildlife service’s plan to delist the gray wolf in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin while keeping the species protected in the rest of the continental U.S. The case was Humane Society of the U.S. v. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

In its species recovery plans, the wildlife service often uses distinct population segments to draw boundaries around places a plant or animal depends on. That three-state area was considered the Western Great Lakes DPS for gray wolves.

“The fundamental error in the Service’s decision is that, in evaluating whether gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes region are a ‘distinct’ population segment, the Service failed to address the impact that extraction of the segment would have on the legal status of the remaining wolves in the already-listed species,” the appeals court judges wrote. They added that creating a DPS was a “one-way ratchet” that could increase protections, but not decrease them without additional justification.

“The Service’s power is to designate genuinely discrete population segments; it is not to delist an already-protected species by balkanization,” they added. “The Service cannot circumvent the Endangered Species Act’s explicit delisting standards by driving an existing listing into a recovered sub-group and a leftover group that becomes an orphan to the law. Such a statutory dodge is the essence of arbitrary-and-capricious and ill-reasoned agency action.”Grizzly bear recovery follows a similar pattern. In July, FWS published its final rule delisting the roughly 700 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is one of six DPS ecosystems the bears inhabit or could inhabit in the Lower 48 states. That action has triggered six lawsuits challenging it to date, several of which use the Western Great Lakes wolf decision in their arguments.

FWS is also working on a delisting rule for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which holds about 1,000 grizzlies in the Rocky Mountains between Missoula and Glacier National Park. But the remaining four ecosystems — the Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk, Bitterroot and North Cascades — hold only handfuls of bears or none at all.

“The Lower 48 grizzlies were originally listed as all one population,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for Wildearth Guardians. “If you pull one DPS out, such as the Yellowstone, you have to consider how that affects all the other populations.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said of the agency request. “You can’t fix it by papering it over after the fact. You have to go back and withdraw the rule. It’s a glaring problem and they knew it back then.”

The request is separate from another notice FWS published on Monday, requesting public comment on its “Supplement to the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan: Habitat-Based Recovery Criteria for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.”

The document explains proposed standards for delisting grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. That final action could take place next summer.

The FWS public comment request runs through January 8, 2018. Comments can be made online through the FWS website.