The U.S. government once sponsored the wholesale eradication of wolves by any means, be it poisoning, trapping or shooting. It was only right, then, that the U.S. government step up to restore the animals they once helped drive to extinction.
Now, that work is done. With more than 6,000 wolves at last count, the species is no longer in danger of extinction in the Lower 48. Federal protections have been removed in a handful of states already, with full delisting on the horizon.
Draft plans to fully delist gray wolves in the Lower 48 were first discussed back in April. On Thursday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its proposed rule in the Federal Register, thus opening the 90-day public comment period.
If the rule is accepted, individual states will assume full responsibility for managing their wolf populations, much as Montana has already done. One particular subspecies of gray wolves in the Southwest will be the lone exception. This group of about 75 Mexican wolves would still be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
However, several large conservation organizations have met the planned end of protections with dismay. Some wildlife advocates are worried that full delisting could lead to widespread extermination. They also see the end of federal protections as the end of any attempts to establish new gray wolf populations in new areas.
These worries persist despite the precedent set in Montana. In 2011, protections for Montana’s wolf populations were lifted. Now, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is largely free to manage wolves, and they haven’t been eradicated – nor have all the elk or domestic animals that wolves sometimes prey on.
No, instead wolf populations in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes regions are healthy and appear to be expanding without human encouragement. In two states, Washington and Oregon, newly established and still-small wolf packs are growing under the protection of state law, rather than federal oversight.
Montana FWP continues to make adjustments to the state’s wolf management plan here. This is as it should be. Although this editorial board does not agree with every aspect of the state’s plans, we acknowledge that those plans are designed to be as responsive as possible to widely diverse needs. The concerns of ranchers, hunters, conservationists and others are all being taken into account.
And should the states fail in their mission, Endangered Species Act protections can be applied again.
But no species should be need permanent protection – especially not when all evidence proves they have fully recovered. In the decade preceding partial delisting, gray wolf recovery efforts cost the U.S. government some $102 million. That, in addition to the $15.6 million provided by the states. The federal government’s time, money and attention is better spent on protecting those species on the brink of extinction.
The 90-day public comment period on the proposed rule will end on Sept. 11. Speak up, and lend your support to fully delisting gray wolves.
EDITORIAL BOARD: Publisher Jim McGowan, Editor Sherry Devlin, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen