July 21, 2010

Petition Hopes To Reunite Gray Wolves Across The US

A scientific petition filed with the federal government on Tuesday hopes to reunite tens of thousands of gray wolves within the woods of New England, the mountains of California, the Great Plains and the desert West.

The animals were poisoned and trapped to near-extermination in the U.S. last century, but they have regained population in some of the most remote wilderness in the lower 48 states.

That recovery came after the reintroduction of 66 wolves in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park.  However, increased livestock killings and declining big game herds have drawn sharp backlash from ranchers, hunters and officials in the Northern Rockies.

Biologists with the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity want to expand that recovery throughout the country.  They said that a few isolated pockets of wolves are not enough.

"If the gray wolf is listed as endangered, it should be recovered in all significant portions of its range, not just fragments," Michael Robinson, who authored the petition, told The Associated Press (AP). Robinson said the animals occupy less than 5 percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states.

The federal Administrative Procedure Act allows outside parties to petition the government to act when species are in danger.  Chris Tollefson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman, told AP that there was no deadline by which the agency must respond to the petition that was filed Tuesday.

Tollefson added that an internal review was under way to figure out where wolves once lived and where they might be returned.

"We need to look at what is realistic and where the suitable habitat would be," Tollefson said.

Tollefson said the review will be completed by late 2010 or early 2011 and will contain recommendations but no final decision on whether to create new wolf populations.

There are about 6,000 wolves that live outside Alaska, with most of those in the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies.  They are listed as endangered everywhere except Alaska, Idaho and Montana.

The Natural Resources Defense Council lodged a similar petition in 2008.  The Fish and Wildlife Service said in its rejection of that petition that the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies programs had succeeded and any additional recovery efforts would be "discretionary."

The Obama administration has pushed to end federal protections for wolves and return control over the animals to the states.

Federal judges have ruled repeatedly that the government failed to prove existing wolf populations to ensure the population's long-term survival.

The Interior Department relented to pressure from environmentalists in the Great Lakes last year by agreeing to put wolves back on the endangered list temporarily just months after they had been removed for the second time.

Experts say wolves could survive in most of the country if they were allowed to be relocated.

Young adult wolves can travel hundreds of miles when looking to establish new territory.  Packs have gained a foothold in parts of Oregon and Washington in the last several years.  Others have been spotted in Colorado, Utah and northern New England.

However, it is more than just biology that plays a role in wolf migration.  David Mech, a wolf experts and senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey said that politics serves the deciding role in where wolves are allowed.

"In the areas where they are not acceptable, they will be killed out "” illegally if nothing else," Mech told AP.

The Northern Rockies population has stirred the most ranchers because of sheep and cattle killings and wolves preying on big game herds.

Idaho and Montana initiated public wolf hunts last year, and both intended to increase their quotas on animals later this year.  The states want to put a dent in the animal's population growth rate, which has been as high as 30 percent annually.

Wyoming was blocked in its efforts to start a hunt after federal officials claimed that state law was too hostile for wolves to ensure their survival.

Wyoming House Speaker Colin Simpson said Tuesday that it should serve as a warning for other states that are asked to take wolves.

"Be careful," Simpson said. "We don't need more of that in the West."


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