Last Thursday, a bald eagle devoured a goldeneye duck on the ice beside Brennan’s Wave, just downstream of Missoula’s Higgins Avenue Bridge.

Such a sight was inconceivable 40 years ago, when the nation’s mascot was disappearing from its skies and just 12 breeding pairs were known in Montana. The bald eagle was one of the “charismatic megafauna” that helped pass the Endangered Species Act, which soon had more than 1,200 plants and animals under its protection.

In the next few months, people in 10 states will be gathering for bus tours and field trips arranged by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to see bald eagles in celebration of the act’s anniversary. Missoulians living, working or studying along the Clark Fork River need only look out their windows. The threatened grizzly bear is the University of Montana’s mascot, and recent GPS data confirm at least two grizzlies have tiptoed right up to the northern edge of the city limits. The confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers east of the city was historically known to the Salish Indians as the “Place of the Big Bull Trout” – another species enjoying ESA protection.

President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law on Dec. 28, 1973, he noted “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans.”

The bald eagle came off the ESA list on July 9, 2007. So have the American alligator, two kinds of peregrine falcon, the brown pelican and 31 other species. Seven species, including the Santa Barbara song sparrow, blue pike and dusky seaside sparrow, have gone extinct since they were given ESA listings.

***

John Melcher was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives when the ESA passed Congress. He was one of 355 votes in favor to four against in the House. In the Senate, the bill passed 92-0.

“It was something that turned out right,” Melcher, who also represented Montana in the U.S. Senate, said from his Rattlesnake home last week. “Nixon signed it – it was one of his better sides. I think he felt good that day. He knew the rationale was right.”

Melcher said the act won such overwhelming support because people understood it provided balance in the natural world.

“I know some people want to get rid of wolverines – it’s not a pleasant animal, but it balances out the rest of the animals,” he said. “It’s a mean son-of-a-gun. It’s not easily liked, but we have to have them. And if you’re not careful, you get out of balance and lose the species.”

We knew so little about that mean son-of-a-gun that the wolverine spent years in the limbo of “warranted but precluded” from ESA protection. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week announced it is six months away from making a final decision on a wolverine listing. The best available science estimates there are between 250 and 650 wolverines in the continental United States. The biggest slice of that population lives in Montana.

Grizzly bears have grown numerous enough to rattle the ground along the political fault line that runs through the Endangered Species Act. Two weeks ago, a roundtable of state and federal wildlife officials that share grizzly recovery duties formally recommended delisting the bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem around Yellowstone National Park.

Federal estimates put the Greater Yellowstone grizzly population somewhere between 629 and 740 bears. FWS grizzly recovery coordinator Chris Servheen argued before the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee that for both biological and political reasons, the grizzly was ready to stand on its own.

“If we don’t delist when the bears are recovered, that public and political support will evaporate,” Servheen told the committee. “We have to signal a touchdown has been made.”

FWS also is working on a draft delisting rule for grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem between Glacier National Park and Missoula, where an estimated 930 bears live. Work on that project stalled after independent grizzly advocates blocked the Greater Yellowstone delisting in court in 2009.

***

Meanwhile, a couple of critters not currently on the Endangered Species Act demonstrate another facet of its influence. Arctic grayling fish and sage grouse are both going through the FWS review process to decide if they should join the list. Making the ESA triggers lots of impacts, including critical habitat designations, required interagency consultations before projects can happen on public land, and prohibitions of the deliberate or accidental taking of the listed species.

The potential for a grayling listing encouraged farmers and ranchers along the Big Hole River in Montana to work together on a water-sharing system that keeps more in-stream flow in tributary creeks where the grayling lives. Landowners who participated in the program earn exemptions from further obligations if the fish receives federal protection.

A similar drama may play out with landowners in sage grouse country. As the bird populations have collapsed through loss of habitat and West Nile virus infection, several states and conservation groups have started recovery programs on their own. They’ve used tactics such as encouraging energy companies to forego leasing for exploration in sage grouse country and buying up underused grazing allotments on public land.

“It’s a good incentive for people to come to the table and craft solutions to keep species from disappearing,” said Derek Goldman of the Endangered Species Coalition in Missoula. “The threat of listing brought all those livestock producers to the table. Some times these efforts work. Sometimes it’s too little, too late.”

***

Or too much, too soon. Kerry White of Citizens for Balanced Use argues the Endangered Species Act does more harm than good.

“I see it more being used to stop resource development, stop agriculture and take private property rights by environmental groups,” White said from his office in Bozeman. “Take sage grouse. They want to list those, but they have absolutely no idea how many sage grouse are in the state of Montana. If you don’t know how many there are, you don’t know how many you need to hit that target.”

White said the ESA’s limited track record for getting animals and plants restored didn’t give him confidence the sacrifices made to save something would ever be repaid.

“I think it’s well overdue to be repealed, done away with or revamped,” White said. “It’s really having an effect on people’s lives and the economics of small communities.”

Both White and Goldman pointed to the 2010 delisting of the Rocky Mountain gray wolf to make their points. For White, it was how the wolf stayed on the Endangered Species List for years after reaching its recovery threshold of 30 breeding pairs in both Idaho and Montana, because of lawsuits blocking the delisting.

“It finally took an act of Congress to legislatively remove wolves from the ESA,” he said, recalling the rider by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. that exempted Montana and Idaho wolves from further judicial review in 2011.

Goldman agreed congressional intervention was a poor precedent.

“But a big piece of the story that’s lost in the hoopla is the amazing success – we recovered a large carnivore that’s difficult to live with,” Goldman said. “It’s too bad that story is kind of lost in the controversy between wolf lovers and wolf haters.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

(17) comments

RPT
RPT

The Endangered Species Act is the engine of social change being used by environmental elitists to destroy rural America. The wildlife that they pretend to care so much about are nothing more than tools of conquest to them.
The unwitting allies of these destructive change agents are the uninformed urban masses who add their political clout to the big bucks of elitist foundations to arm this War against the West.

There are many species on the endangered list but most of the attention and money goes to just a few of them and those are either fish or predators. This is because fish and predators:

excite the public imagination more and are therefore good fundraisers and salescreatures for preservation.
can lock up more land because they have large habitat requirements.
The rest of the species on the list are mostly ignored until necessary to use them to stop some specific project.

Lobo Bandito
Lobo Bandito

Well said RPT

Lobo Bandito
Lobo Bandito

SweetnessNight while it is true most of Montana is at or above objective, many areas, like mine, that were at objective just a few years ago now longer have enough elk to even hunt. The FWP has eliminated all cow tags and the bull tags are next. Not that there are many bulls to even hunt. They may create a draw but who wants to put in for a draw in a unit that doesnt even have good trophy potential? They may just stop humans hunting for elk altogether. If you look at those who just need the extremely cheap organic meat to feed their families and realize they can no longer feed their families from their own district. They also may not be able to afford to travel to other districts to hunt. Its pretty rude. Then all the guides who had to close their business's which also effects the local economy even further. Unlike yellowstone nobody comes to this district to view wolves so the local economy and locals deep freezers here suffer the loss. Thats people loosing FOOD and WORK. Yes this is because our elk calf numbers are way down, ever since the wolves got a stronghold. How do I know its the wolves? Because the biologist who studies this district told me. She is worried because after so many years of little to no calf survival eventually you run into HUGE problems with the herd being ready to die of old age. I guess the best way to explain how screwed up the whole thing is, is to put it like this. If the wolves were doing as badly in this district as the elk and moose are, for years and years, there would be lawsuits filed from every major pro-wolf group. The balance is horrific in this area and so is the favoritism. I'm for a balance of things, not this unbalance that we have. I'm for people getting to eat elk and moose, not just the furry predators. The loss of local business is in the millions and so is the weight loss of our states cattle. This counter balances the wolf money you speak of 10 fold. You can talk about selective facts but please dont hide the big picture. Wolves have cost this state everything and brought little in comparison to the table. Not until they can be managed correctly, if ever, will our state have a chance to once again benefit from our true tourist industry, hunters. The ESA took our rights away, which is an unforgivable sin. To tell somebody, hey we know there are 60,000 wolves across the border in canada and another 20,000 in alaska, but if you hear then see a wolf outside ripping the guts out of your horse or dog you must stand and watch the horror show. If you choose to protect your pets then you face prison time and huge fines. The ESA is a joke. "Saving" the wolves is a joke, there are 100,000 wolves in north america and the ICUN had and has them listed as LEAST CONCERN. Alligators and HUMANS are listed as least concern. Why take away peoples god given right to defend pets and livestock under direct wolf attack for a species that was NEVER endangered. Its all a scam fueled by uneducated people, people with agendas that want wolves in every state and never want one to be managed or harvested or "murdered", and people who are looking to take away our rights. They love to twist facts and only tell half of the story. The true story is the bleeding hearts and their unrealistic war for wolves went SO beyond reality, so beyond being acceptable, not following their own recovery goals and of which raising the glass ceiling for almost a decade that it ruined the ESA for everything else. The reintroduction was a disaster and from now on things will be much tougher for other animals that are REALLY endangered. In reality the wolf introduction was an epic fail. This is why Defenders of wildlife one week said wolves are not even close to being ready to be hunted and then not even 2 weeks later sold them out to try to save the ESA as the rider was going to go through and change things forever. It changed the protection offered to other threatened/endangered species and it threatened the income of DOW type groups. At least now the ESA has been dismantled a little and thank God we can now bring a balance back by killing some wolves. I don't want them all dead, I just want to be able to get my meat from my backyard and not from walmart. Pretty ironic that the wolf lovers were not only the largest threat to the ESA and the local ungulates but also the biggest threat to the local subspecies of canis lupus irremotus. That just happened!! :D

jus wundrin
jus wundrin

I dont mind preserving species through proper management, but when da gubment gets involved with laws and "acts" that arent carefully thought out (like most) bad things tend to occur.

When land is locked up to any development or the harvest of natural resources because the area is a supposed habitat for an endangered species, even though none has EVER been recorded there, it becomes a tool for rabid faux environmentalists to shut down projects and put folks out of business.

Then you have folks like the al gore who spread lies stating that "species loss is now occurring at a rate 1,000 times greater than the natural background rate" just to keep the big metropolitan emotionally challenged in line and progressives in office.....fear mongering at its finest.

The ESA should be scrapped.


montanamuralist
montanamuralist

Yeah, lets poison wolves since WE put an easy meal out in the pasture for them. I do question a plan that introduces wolves and now allows people to trap them. I guess if I had a ranch I might feel differently but I don't and love seeing them in the wild. Sorry if the ones that were here first ( wolves) seem to be such an irritation to people.

Roger
Roger

What's wrong with controlling the wolf population? They will not be eradicated. And wolves were here first compared to what? And what does being somewhere first have to do with controlling a predator's population? Time moves on and things change - nothing stays the same forever, so you can't just freeze any particular moment in time.

Kuato
Kuato

"Atlas Shrugged"

Sukey
Sukey

I read the book, in fact all of her books, but I fail to see the connection. IMHO, her best book was "We, The Living".

trad man
trad man

The last sentence is why the divide, I don't hate wolves, but I sure hate the wasted money in court that could of been used to study another animal or bird population, I sure hate the lack of science in the wolf lovers, I hate seeing all the big game killed by an out of control wolf population. The only way they cut them down was with poison which is exactly where we are headed now thanks to these so called "wolf lovers".

Roger
Roger

Plus one on that.

oldcowgirl
oldcowgirl

"DITTO"

SweetnessNlight
SweetnessNlight

Ron Aasheim, a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman stated in an article :Hunt for elk proves more challenging - Spokesman.com - Nov. 30, 2013 "With all the national publicity about wolves, the message that 70 percent of Montana’s hunting areas were at or above goals for elk numbers was getting lost," So Elk numbers are up in Montana and not being killed off as you mistakenly state.
In a letter to the Ravalli Republic, this "Hunters blame the wolves,but part of the decline has been due to drought and a low calf ratio. FWP did an aggressive cow elk hunt until 2005. Doug Smith,the parks wolf biologist said the elk are healthier and meaner. The wolves have shifted to buffalo while other predators are eating calves. The wolves are at the lowest count and the elk woes are not wolf connected."

Wolves generate economic benefits. Tourists who visit Yellowstone to view wolves add more than $35 million annually to the region’s economy, according to a University of Montana study. In Montana that figure is $410 million. So it is not as you think or state in your comment.

Sukey
Sukey

There is a choir you are speaking to, but it is silenced. The same old outfitters saying the same old nonsense over and over and blaming over zealous hunters and exploding populations of people and inedible noxious weeds for any/all elk decline on a few measly wolves.

jus wundrin
jus wundrin

Id like to see that study. Source?

Roger
Roger

Elk have been depleted in some areas due to wolves. Wolves definitely can have devastating attacks on elk and other animals. Don't fall for the propaganda of wolf-worshipers.

Dr. Charles E. Kay, Ph.D. wildlife ecology, studied western wildlife for 30 years, and maintains that research in Alaska, British Columbia, the Yukon, Alberta and other Canadian provinces indicates that wolves and other predators more often than not limit ungulate populations.

Throughout much of Alaska and Canada, ungulate populations have been kept at low levels by predators, and at the Second North American Symposium on Wolves (Edmonton, Alberta, 1992) numerous scientists reported that wolves and other predators limit ungulate numbers. Alaska biologists report the same thing.

Wolves and other predators, in many cases, limit ungulate populations below the level set by food resources. If ungulate populations have been reduced by severe weather or other causes, wolves and other predators can drive the numbers even lower and maintain them at that level. This condition is called a predator pit, and there is no field evidence that ungulates can escape from a predator pit even if hunting is banned, unless wolves and other predators are reduced by predator control.

The Northern Yellowstone elk herd was thriving in 1994, with more than 19,000 elk. Wolves were introduced in 1995; now the herd numbers less than 4000. Kurt Alt of the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department asserts that wolves are primarily responsible for the elk decline, and Ken Hamlin of the FWP says that from his observations, elk seem to do better in areas with few, or no, wolves.

Dubs
Dubs

Where did these numbers come from? If this is correct, we need to ship in a bunch more!

Objective observer
Objective observer

410 million additional dollars brought into the state due to wolves being present? I think we'd all like to see that study. That's almost a quarter of the total amount of tourism dollars spent in MT per year. Does anybody believe that?

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