One side story prowling in the background of last week’s US federal budget showdown concerns a policy initiative or ‘rider’ tagged on to the fiscal debate that would summarily remove the North American gray wolf from the endangered species list.
Sponsored in the US House of Representatives by Republican member Mike Simpson of Idaho, the initiative differs from most other policy riders that were in contention last week (such as a proposal to curtail the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions), because it survived the hard negotiations that allowed Congress to avoid a government shutdown at midnight on 8 April. This is not entirely surprising: the effort to delist the wolf enjoys support from many Western Democrats, including Senator Joe Tester of Montana, who issued a statement on 9 April saying: “This wolf fix isn’t about one party’s agenda. It’s about what’s right for Montana and the West.”
Western politicians from both parties are sensitive to the status of the gray wolf, once nearly eliminated from the continental US and now recovering thanks to reintroduction programs which began at Yellowstone National Park and additional sites in Idaho in the mid-1990s. The releases have proved controversial with ranchers who regard the predators as a costly menace to livestock, among other parties.
The delisting — which is expected to pass along with the rest of the 2011 budget later this week — is not the only new wrinkle in the wolf saga. On 18 March, we told you about a “wolf war truce” in which green groups, states and the Department of the Interior agreed on a compromise that would keep the wolf moving towards removal from the endangered species list, but also protect the wolf in states where they are still scarce and bring in independent scientists to keep an eye on the species.
Now, a judge that has already weighed in on wolves in the past — in 2010 he overturned a federal government attempt to delist the wolves — has nullified the agreement. He says that the law is clear. Scientific evidence and ESA procedure must dictate when the wolves are ready to come of the list, not political negotiators.
This Greenwire story gives more details and a link to the judge’s decision.
Stay tuned. There’s more twists and turns ahead as the west struggles with its “wolf problem.” Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter is toying with declaring a “wolf disaster” emergency and letting law enforcement take out some of Idaho’s wolves. As the relevant bill says, “The uncontrolled proliferation of imported wolves on private land has produced a clear and present danger to humans, their pets and livestock, and has altered and hindered historical uses of private and public land, dramatically inhibiting previously safe activities such as walking, picnicking, biking, berry picking, hunting and fishing. The continued uncontrolled presence of gray wolves represents an unfunded mandate, a federal commandeering of both state and private citizen resources and a government taking that makes private property unusable for the quiet enjoyment of property owners.”
There’s a lot to learn from this language. The wolf wars are about more than just wildlife management, or even primal fear of animals that can kill us. On one level the wolf wars are about western disaffection and rural landowners unwilling to be dictated to by Washington bureaucrats. And while the relationship between the west and the feds may not be as ancient as that between man and wolf, it is just as emotionally fraught.
Photo by LuRay Parker. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.