December 30, 2013
Critics Decry Proposed Removal Of Gray Wolf From Endangered Species List
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
While the removal of an animal from the federal endangered species list would normally be cause for celebration among environmentalists, a new report in the journal Conservation Letters asserted that a proposal by the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the gray wolf from the list would have unintended negative consequences for other endangered species.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to detail what the threats are and if they're substantial enough, they're supposed to list a species and put in place policies to mitigate the threats," said report author Jeremy Bruskotter, an ecology professor at The Ohio State University.
In 1973, congress passed the Endangered Species Act, which was drafted to protect any species threatened with extinction throughout all or a major portion of its range. In order for a species to be removed from the list, the FWS must declare it is no longer endangered in all or a "significant portion of its range."
While the gray wolf has recovered in the northern Rockies and upper Great Lakes, it has not recovered across the other 85 percent of its historic range, from the West Coast through New England in the northern half of the country, and as far east as the middle of Texas in the southern half of the country.
"So what the service is saying is that wolves are going to be called recovered in most of the United States despite the fact that very few wolves live outside these two recovered areas," Bruskotter said. "Wherever they are now, that's their range – which means taking the historic and geographic component out of the listing process."
The report authors said the new rule considers much of the wolf’s historic range uninhabitable due to human settlement and would essentially allow FWS to declare a habitat unsuitable for an endangered animal because a human “threat” exists on the land.
"Here, they're saying that they recognize the threat of human intolerance and instead of mitigating the threat, they're just going to say the land is unsuitable,” Bruskotter said.
The report authors argue that the rule "specifically creates incentive to destroy habitat in advance of a listing and do things that aren't good for endangered species."
The Endangered Species Act also requires the service to judge the "best available science" in determining if threats have receded and a species is on the mend. The report authors argued that FWS ignored studies that suggest human support for wolf restoration is high, but instead claimed that human populated areas are unsuitable because of intolerance for the animals.
"That process is not the best available science," Bruskotter said.
Bruskotter acknowledged that FWS is in the unenviable position of being caught between hunters and livestock producers on one side; and wildlife advocates on the other. However, that fact doesn’t excuse the agency from acting on behalf of other endangered species as the law stipulates, he said.
"The law is supposed to help the protected species, not just describe the threats to that species. But to construct this delisting rule, they've had to interpret policy and science in every case in a way that either disregards threats to wolves, or treats them as insurmountable," Bruskotter said. "They're doing the opposite of what the act requires."