Oregon wolf numbers could trigger delisting in 2015

Kuckuc, or “Little Gray Girl” in the Nez Perce language, watches from the snow in this 2014 photo at the Wolf Education & Research Center in Winchester, Idaho.

Cattlemen are cheering an announcement that the Department of the Interior will soon propose a plan to end federal protections on gray wolves, especially after the report claiming the species is fully recovered in the Lower 48 states.

On March 6, Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon come up with a plan for delisting wolves, returning management to the states and tribes.

“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 with the help of the ESA,” said Fish and Wildlife spokesman Gavin Shire.

While we agree that the recovery of the wolf is good news, and hope for responsible management in the future, the proposal has a long way to go before becoming reality.

Since they were reintroduced in 1995, gray wolves have enjoyed intensive federal and state management.

When biologists first considered how long it would take wolves to become reestablished in the Pacific Northwest, they had no idea the species would thrive the way it has. They started with 31 wolves transplanted from Canada to Idaho and 35 transplanted to Yellowstone National Park. Now hundreds of wolves blanket Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming, and range as far west as the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and across much of Washington state.

The number of wolf packs in the Northwest continues to multiply with no help from state or federal wildlife managers. Wolves also show up in the most unlikely places. OR-7, a wolf originally from northeastern Oregon, wandered as far south as California before returning to Oregon and establishing his own pack. Recent attacks suggest a wolf or wolves have now made it to Curry County and the Oregon coast.

Wolf attacks on cattle and sheep grazing on federal and private lands are common. Ranchers can rightfully claim that they have involuntarily paid a big part of the price to reestablish wolves throughout the West.

Now federal regulators say their work is done and it’s time to take the gray wolf off the federal Endangered Species List. That will hardly signal open season on wolves, as they still enjoy robust state protections.

But environmental groups disagree.

“Given that (gray) wolves in the Lower 48 states occupy such a small percentage of their historical habitat, it is almost laughable for the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine that they are successfully recovered,” said John Mellgren, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center.

“On its face, this appears to be politically motivated,” Mellgren said. “We look forward to reviewing the draft delisting rule, and look forward to taking the Fish and Wildlife Service to court should its proposal not be based on what the science tells us.”

Let the lawsuits begin.

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