18 Jul 2013: Opinion

Should Wolves Stay Protected
Under Endangered Species Act?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stirred controversy with its proposal to remove endangered species protection for wolves, noting the animals’ strong comeback in the northern Rockies and the Midwest. It’s the latest in the long, contentious saga of wolf recovery in the U.S.

by ted williams

On June 13 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a proposal to remove Endangered Species Act protection for all wolves in the contiguous states save about 75 of the Mexican subspecies in Arizona and New Mexico. There’s now a 90-day public comment period, and the service is being torn apart like a geriatric moose.

The 40-year-old Endangered Species Act (ESA) was humankind’s first meaningful effort to preserve the planet's genetic wealth. It has been a beacon for the world, inspiring similar statutes in other countries and serving as a blueprint for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Rocky Mountain wolves
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
An estimated 1,674 wolves now roam Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
When a species is out of danger it must be “delisted” so that limited resources can be allocated to species in real trouble. Most U.S. wolves south of Alaska are in the northern Rockies (Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming) and the Lake States (Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan), and they’ve already been delisted. But is the Fish and Wildlife Service right when it says it’s time to delist the rest? It could not be more wrong, say many conservationists and some wildlife biologists.

“Scientific chutzpah” is how environmental journalist James Gibson defines the agency’s questionable assertion that wolves once extant in the Northwest and East were genetically distinct from the wolves living in the northern Rockies and Lake States, which were the ones originally listed under the ESA and delisted during the last three years. This way the service can claim that formerly listed wolves are recovered in “nearly the entire historical range.”

“I think the plan is premature,” declares Norman Bishop, the former
Playing politics with the Endangered Species Act is not just okay – it’s essential.
Yellowstone National Park biologist who led public outreach for wolf reintroduction.

Michael Hutchins, who retired last year as director of the Wildlife Society, calls for “better science” and objects to wolves being “delisted out of political expediency.”

“This decision could derail wolf recovery efforts in areas around the country where it has barely begun,” warns Defenders of Wildlife.

I can’t dispute any of this. But as the fur flies it’s time to reflect on what the Fish and Wildlife Service has been up against and what it has accomplished. Playing politics with the ESA is not just okay; it’s essential. And the agency’s brilliant politicking over the last 30 years is the reason wolves in the northern Rockies and Lake States really are recovered.

That recovery seemed hopeless in the late 1980s when I became an adviser to the Wolf Fund – the group that did more than any other NGO to return wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Western politicians were citing data from the Brothers Grimm. Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, for example, proclaimed that “wolves chase women in Russia”; Montana Senator Conrad Burns assured the public that “there'll be a dead child within a year.” The states perceived a plot to drive ranchers off public land.

But one winter night in 1995 I turned on the TV and there were Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Fish and Wildlife Service director Mollie Beattie carrying a caged wolf, the first of 66 trapped in Canada, into Yellowstone National Park where it was released. How could this have happened?

It happened because the service played politics. Under an ESA provision it designated the transplanted wolves a “non-essential experimental population,” thereby allowing ranchers
Wolf lovers have been no less a threat to recovery than wolf haters.
to shoot any that ranged outside the park and were seen attacking livestock – this to the general horror of the environmental community. But Babbitt, Beattie, and their biologists understood that without such designation wolf recovery was politically impossible. Moreover, they understood that livestock predation is unnatural wolf behavior passed on to offspring; and they wanted offending animals out of the breeding population.

As wolves spread through Yellowstone and beyond ranchers noticed that sheep losses were down. That’s because coyotes are naturally more numerous than wolves, and wolves are the only form of coyote control that ever worked. In the park’s Lamar Valley, coyotes had consumed 85 percent of the mice; but by killing or evicting most of the coyotes the wolves returned that food base to an enormous array of other predators including foxes, weasels, badgers, owls, and hawks. As wolves ran overabundant elk out of riparian areas, aspen, cottonwood, and willow regenerated and with them leaf-eating insects that had been the base of a food chain sustaining everything from bats to swallows to trout to otters to ospreys to pelicans.

In addition to ranchers and politicians, the Fish and Wildlife Service has had to contend with wolf-hating hunters. Almost everywhere in current and former wolf range elk and deer are over carrying capacity, damaging wildlife habitat (including their own), and increasingly unhealthy. Wolves instantly sense when animals are incapacitated by disease or parasites, and in culling them they reduce mortality by reducing transmission. But the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, to cite just one example, campaigned for wolf killing on behalf of its hunter donors to the point that the descendants of iconic biologist and wilderness advocate Olaus Murie demanded cancellation of the foundation’s Olaus Murie Award because its “all-out war against wolves is anathema to the entire Murie family.”

Wolf lovers have been no less a threat to recovery than wolf haters. In an effort to get full endangered status for Yellowstone wolves, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (now Earthjustice) sued the service on behalf of the National Audubon Society, convincing a federal judge in 1997 to strike down the designation of the Yellowstone population as non-essential. This meant that the wolves had been released illegally and, because Canada didn’t want them back, would have to be killed. Fortunately, the National Wildlife Federation got an appeals court to reverse the judge’s order.

By 2008 the recovery goal for the northern Rockies –  100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs in each of the three states (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho) – had been exceeded by
A 2011 act of Congress was a horrible, weakening precedent of the nation's best and strongest environmental law.
at least 300 percent. But there are some environmental groups that want nothing delisted ever. Leading the pack is the Center for Biological Diversity which sues to list or keep listed everything that traversed Noah’s plank, studied or unstudied, then collects attorney fees from taxpayers. Amos Eno, who worked at the service’s Endangered Species Office crafting the amendments that strengthened the act, contends that the federal government could "recover and delist three dozen species" with the resources it spends responding to the center’s litigation.

Wyoming insisted on classifying its wolves as vermin, but Idaho and Montana came up with management plans the service could live with; so in 2008 it delisted wolves in those two states. Enter the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, and ten other outfits that prevailed in a lawsuit to prevent delisting on the technicality that populations must be designated by region not by state. This so enraged Congress that it delisted Idaho and Montana wolves itself with a law passed in April 2011. It was the first congressionally mandated ESA delisting – a horrible, weakening precedent for our best and strongest environmental law.

Meanwhile, the service had to play politics with Wyoming, the epicenter of wolf fear and loathing. “The Wyoming law treats wolves like coyotes [that can be shot on sight],” Ed Bangs, then the service’s Western wolf recovery coordinator, told me at the time. “Coyotes can thrive under those conditions, but wolves vanish. The legislature developed this very detailed wolf law, gave it to the state fish and game guys, and said, ‘Okay, make it work.’ The biologists did their best -- they really did -- but they had to keep going back to the law. And that just ain’t gonna work for us.”

A political compromise imploded after the Wyoming legislature tried to increase the huge “free fire zone” – the part of the state where wolves could be shot even if they weren’t bothering livestock.
Today, there are an estimated 1,674 wolves in the northern Rockies and 4,432 in the Lake States.
So the service continued playing politics, educating, reasoning, cajoling, brandishing its trump card (granting wolves permanent endangered status) like a crucifix in front of a fanged face. Finally, in 2012, the state hatched a plan with the free-fire zone cut down to 85 percent of the state, and wolves in Wyoming were removed from the endangered list. “We’re not happy with it,” says John Kostyack of the National Wildlife Federation. “Is it enough to sink recovery of the Northern Rockies wolves? No. Delisting Wyoming wolves was obviously a political decision.”

Under ESA protection, Minnesota wolves colonized Wisconsin and Michigan until, in 2007, the recovery goal for the three-state population had not only been met but had nearly tripled, requiring delisting. But the Center for Biological Diversity and its allies got a court order blocking this needed, mandated action. So the service fought back, again turning up the politics; and in 2011 it succeeded with delisting. By doing so it preserved ESA integrity, credibility, and funding.

Today, thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and no thanks to the perennial plaintiffs, there are an estimated 1,674 wolves in the northern Rockies and 4,432

MORE FROM YALE e360

For Wolves on the Brink,
A Hobbled Recovery Plan

For Wolves on the Brink, A Hobbled Recovery Plan
Few creatures in the United States have come as close to extinction as the Mexican wolf, which was wiped out in the U.S. by 1970. Now, scientists and conservationists contend, federal officials are caving into political pressure and failing to implement a legally mandated reintroduction plan.
READ MORE
in the Lake States. That’s the greatest success story in the history of wildlife restoration.

But what of the service’s current proposal to delist most wolves currently protected by the ESA? If the plan gets implemented as written, wolves will have trouble recolonizing 25 million acres in Colorado and Utah because they will be unprotected. And the recently reintroduced Mexican wolves will have trouble moving north into unprotected territory. Northern Rockies wolves have already made it to the Pacific Northwest on their own; and while future dispersal to the region (needed to prevent inbreeding) will be difficult, at least Oregon and Washington appreciate their wolves and have classified them as endangered under state regulations. They can manage wolves as well as the federal government.

“The wolf is probably the most politicized species ever,” remarks Kostyack. “It’s not surprising that the service wants to be done with it all.”

Considering all the agency has gone through and all it has accomplished, I don’t blame it. That’s not to say I like its draft plan; I don’t because of the way it impedes natural dispersal. But I and the rest of the public have till September 11 to demand fixes; and the service has shown that it is good at listening.



POSTED ON 18 Jul 2013 IN Biodiversity Climate Forests Policy & Politics Antarctica and the Arctic North America 

COMMENTS


I thought wild turkey in Missouri was the greatest success story in the history of restoration. Or was it the elk in Kentucky? The author overreaches to make his argument against the environmental litigators.

Surely the numbers of wolves are suboptimal in most, if not all of their ranges. It's as though the author is impressed by numbers in the thousands, and expects us to simply accept their sufficiency.

The scholarship behind this article is not as rigorous as I'd expect from Yale.

Posted by Constant Gardener on 18 Jul 2013


Hey there Constant Gardener: Not sure why you would imagine or who told you that turkeys in MO or Kentucky’s 5,000 elk rate as great or “greatest” success stories. The point you miss is that everyone loves elk and turkeys. Dump a few in the right habitat, and they take off. And lots and lots of people hate wolves. Dump a few in the right habitat, and they get shot. Sure, there could be more wolves and there will be--even if the USFWS doesn’t fix the plan I criticized. If the environmental litigators you mention had been allowed to have their way, wolf restoration wouldn’t have happened. Thank God for thoughtful, practical groups like the NWF.

Posted by Ted Williams on 18 Jul 2013


The number of wolves in the Northern Rockies at the time of de-listing is just about equal to the number in the Great Lakes when they were LISTED. That is not a recovery! We now know that the "recovery" goal of 100 wolves in ea of MT, ID and WY is too small to be genetically viable, but those three states are in the process of slaughtering wolves apparently until only 100 are left. De-listing wolves will be their demise. Thank heavens NGO's like the Center for Biological Diversity keep suing!

Posted by meadow on 18 Jul 2013


Another great story from Ted Williams. Thanks.

Posted by Andy on 18 Jul 2013


While wolf populations are nowhere near being at the carrying capacity of available, suitable ecosystems, and the attitude, behavior and methods of wolf killers, trappers, hounders, hunters and certain lawmakers is absolutely horrifying, I'm at least gratified that an author well known in the hunting community acknowledges the deep, intrinsic value of wolves to our planet.

No, I don't agree we are done with wolf restoration. No, I don't side with ranchers or hunters who want to see more wolves eliminated, or even who see them as yet another fun 'living target'. Wolves are much too complex, emotional and social to be treated that way. Current 'by the numbers' management protocols are just plain bad science, and morally wrong when it comes to animals like wolves.

Many seem to feel that, if they even SEE a wolf, or signs a wolf has passed through an area, it means there are too many wolves. That's just plain wrong.

But, I feel this article is basically pretty well balanced and not biased against wolves. In fact, Williams shows some high regard for, and understanding of wolves and the role they play in shaping the healthy biological systems they reign over.

Therefore, I have to thank Mr. Williams for the appreciation and support of wolves he's demonstrated in his post. If more in the hunting and ranching communities would speak out on behalf of the wolves in this way, applauding their crucial and beneficial role in maintaining the health and vibrant diversity of our planet, then maybe we can turn this thing around.

Posted by birdpond on 18 Jul 2013


This article is riddled with errors, omissions and a meanness of spirit not befitting the otherwise excellent Yale Environment 360.

Williams asserts that the Center for Biological Diversity “leads the pack” among groups who “want nothing delisted ever.” In fact, the Center supported 13 of the 16 the delisting decisions and proposals issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the past five years. It has a long history of pushing to get species on the brink of recovery over the final hump and off the endangered species list.

He asserts that the Fish and Wildlife Service introduced wolves to Yellowstone as a “experimental non-essential” population to the “the general horror of the environmental community.” In fact, the introduction was praised by The Wolf Fund and Defenders of Wildlife (see Associated Press, Final rules for wolves praised, Environmental groups like "guarantee clause', 11/25/1994), called a “livable compromise” by the Sierra Club (Associated Press, Bureau expected to sue over wolf plan, 11/24/1994) and “something many people out there have been looking forward to and working on for years - bringing a major predator back to the system after it's been gone for 60 years” by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (Colorado Springs Gazette, After 60 years, wolves coming home, 11/27/1994).

Williams falsely claims that Earthjustice sued to strike down the experimental non-essential designation of Yellowstone’s introduced wolves. The Earthjustice suit challenged the stripping away of protection from Yellowstone’s naturally occurring, wild wolves, it did not seek to change the status of the introduced wolves.

Williams borders on malice in saying the case resulted in a court order requiring Yellowstone’s wolves to be killed excepting the intervention of the National Wildlife Federation to oppose Earthjustice’s efforts. The case to cancel the reintroduction effort and have Yellowstone’s wolves removed or killed was filed by the livestock industry and is entitled “Wyoming Farm Bureau v. Babbitt, 987 F. Supp. 1349 (D. Wyo. 1997).” The judge’s ruling was indeed opposed by the National Wildlife Federation, but as Williams knows perfectly
well, it was also opposed by Earthjustice indeed, it was the latter which appealed the decision to the 10th Circuit. For more information, see summaries by the Department of Justice
(http://www.justice.gov/enrd/4694.htm) and Earthjustice (http://www.forwolves.org/ralph/EarthJusticenewsrelease.htm).

Finally Williams’ vitriolic salvo—“environmental litigators are also political ignoramuses and ecological illiterates…. Thank God for thoughtful, practical groups like the NWF”—is misleading: not only is NWF an environmental litigator, it sued to stop wolf delisting (see National Wildlife Federation v. Norton, 386 F.Supp.2d 553 (D. Vt. 2005).

Mr. Williams has been called out on several occasions over the years for making outrageous claims, false statements, and relying on dubiously “anonymous” quotations. It is disappointing to see Yale Environment 360 get enmeshed with his divisive, bitter and misleading style of commentary. Caustic rants are a service to no one.

Kieran Suckling
Executive Director
Center for Biological Diversity

Posted by Kieran Suckling on 19 Jul 2013


Wolves are being drastically hunted, tortured, and barbarically slaughtered. No one has the right to torture any animals or to kill them, not mentioning how important wolves are for the nature. Before federal protection, wolves were hunted to extinction. After they were illegally hunted and trapped and now you want to legalize hunters and poachers. I dont see anything ethical in this. Please keep them on the endangered list. Thank you!!!

Posted by Raluca Lucaciu on 19 Jul 2013


Meadow:

Please explain to us what the Center for Biological Diversity has accomplished with its litigious onslaught about wolves other than to divide the country and collect attorney fees for itself. And please do some research about the biology of wolves and their habitat requirements. There is a great deal of land in the northern Rockies and Lake States that can no longer support wolves. The fact that Wildlife Services is killing more wolves indicates success because available habitat is occupied and young wolves are dispersing into areas where they get into trouble and can’t survive anyway. When you understand carrying capacity and habitat get back to us.

Posted by Ted Williams on 19 Jul 2013


Mr. Williams makes a number of good points, such as (a) wolf recovery was a landmark success, (b) the states are as good or more effective than the FWS at managing wolves on the ground(not the same as managing them at the regional policy level though), and (c) the FWS has successfully navigated between vocal, powerful interest groups to achieve the current wolf recoveries. But the record shows several of Mr. Williams' arguments are misconceived and some of these lead one to a different conclusion.

Here's a simple alternative conclusion: the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) cost itself and taxpayers exorbitant legal fees by misconstruing the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and repeatedly arguing poorly for its decisions.

Recall that each lawsuit was triggered by a proactive decision to reduce or remove federal protections -- the suits didn't come out of the blue. At least five federal court decisions about wolf delisting or lethal control permits for wolves support the view that the FWS
misinterpreted the ESA. Were the judges all confused as Mr. Williams seems to suggest?

No. The FWS made repeated errors in its desire to shed responsibility for wolves. The 2013 notice is an egregious example and I will lay out the reasons in an opinion piece on this website if the editors agree.

In conclusion, I agree with Mr. Williams about the 2013 notice delisting wolves outside their current range -- but his reason (preventing dispersal) is only scratching the surface of why the FWS mis-stepped. They will be sued again and they will lose again, I predict. Then Congress may step in again (not with a law but with a budget rider Mr. Williams) and further weaken the ESA. Whose fault? Again the FWS because they ignored advice about how to manage wolves at a regional or national level without being sued.

Stay tuned.

Posted by Adrian Treves, PhD (Wolf researcher in Wisconsin) on 19 Jul 2013


Ted Williams is known for his attack style of journalism. I'm just surprised that Yale 360 would stoop to printing it. The piece is full of errors of fact and law and vicious slander of groups dedicated to wolf conservation. Obviously Mr Williams has a low opinion of lawyers and little regard for the rule of law, preferring a more free wheeling political deal making approach to the "technicalities" of the Endangered Species Act. He's entitled to his opinion but not his facts. Time and space does not permit a point by point rebuttal of all the inaccuracies. But perhaps one example reveals all one needs to know about Mr Williams' credibility. It was the livestock industry not Earthjustice that sued to have the Yellowstone wolves delisted and killed. You can look it up: Wyoming Farm Bureau v. Babbitt, 987 F. Supp. 1349 (D. Wyo. 1997)

As for legal "technicalities" that Mr. Williams decries, the failure to file an income tax return is also a technicality. That's what put Al Capone away.

The state by state delisting process that FWS employed to get out of the wolf recovery business has been declared illegal by every court to consider it. But it's not just illegal, it's bad conservation policy. What does a state boundary have to do with maintaining viable populations of keystone species like the wolf and grizzly bear to the vast Greater Yellowstone ecosystem? There is a term for this. It's called race to the bottom. No self respecting conservationist would support that approach for dealing with our most imperiled wildlife.

Posted by Patrick Parenteau on 19 Jul 2013


Mr. Suckling excels at re-writing history. Yes, the Wolf Fund on which I served and funded and Defenders of Wildlife supported the non-essential designation. They were the exceptions among the environmental community. That’s why I qualified the word “horror” with the word “general.” Also, I never reported that “Earthjustice sued to strike down the experimental non-essential designation of Yellowstone’s introduced wolves.” It sued to get full endangered status for non-existent wild wolves. What the suit accomplished, as I accurately reported, was to convince a federal judge to “strike down the designation of the Yellowstone population as non-essential.” This meant that the wolves had been released illegally and, because Canada didn’t want them back, would have to be killed. Had the the National Wildlife Federation not gotten an appeals court to reverse that order, wolf recovery would not have happened.

The center has a well-earned reputation for obstructing the Endangered Species Act process with its endless suits and appeals to list everything, studied or unstudied, that traversed Noah’s plank. “I think the Center and WildEarth Guardians are trying to see who can sue most,” says former Fish and Wildlife Service director Jamie Clark who now heads Defenders of Wildlife.

Suckling scolds me for quoting “anonymous sources,” but he of all people should understand that Interior officials will not criticize NGOs without requesting anonymity. A senior Obama official, who asked not to be identified, told me this: "The Center for Biological Diversity has probably sued Interior more than all other groups combined. They've divested that agency of any control over Endangered Species Act priorities and caused a huge drain on resources."

Posted by Ted Williams on 19 Jul 2013


I hear from Mr. Parenteau from time to time, and he invariably lacks “time and space” to rebut or even mention my alleged “inaccuracies.” But he has plenty of time and space to spew inaccuracies of his own such as falsely claiming that I reported that Earthjustice “sued to have the Yellowstone wolves delisted and killed.”

Posted by Ted Williams on 19 Jul 2013


I respect anyone trying to conserve the wild landscape and its inhabitants these days. Here in the U.S.A. things aren't what they once were. We have to work with the hand that's dealt us. Surely work to change that situation, but we can't wish it away.

I appreciate the work being done by the Center for Biological Diversity, Mr. Parenteau, and Mr. Williams. Thank-you.

These are horrid times for conservation.
Posted by Andy on 19 Jul 2013


Mr. Williams,

Wildlife Services, the wrongly named taxpayer funded wildlife killing agency, kills wolves because ranchers want them to. It is not a reflection of lack of habitat. And the more wolves that get killed, the more their packs fracture and disintegrate. Young wolves lose their mentors so their inexperience leads them to kill livestock. You have cause and effect reversed. Kill wolves and more livestock die. This is evident in the different policies toward wolves in Idaho and Oregon. That Wisconsin is killing more wolves is not a reflection of how well wolves are doing.

Wolves are completely capable of regulating their own numbers. They themselves will kill the wandering juveniles from other packs who interlope into their territory. These territories are robustly defended which keeps wolf density naturally below the carrying capacity of the prey base.

When you understand wolf biology, get back to us.

Posted by meadow on 19 Jul 2013


Meadow: Wildlife Services is an easy target for folks who don’t grasp the realities of wildlife-human interactions. I’ve spent time in the field with Wildlife Services biologists and they are anything but mindless killers. When wolves get into ranchland and kill livestock, they are behaving aberrantly. And they pass this behavior onto their offspring. I know it’s hard to accept, but one reason wolf recovery has succeeded is that livestock-killing wolves have been culled. The most knowledgeable and effective advocates of wolf restoration the people who got it done, want those wolves out of the breeding population. Another point: Were it not for Wildlife Services, stockmen would revert to vigilantism and the right wolves would be killed for the wrong reasons.

Posted by Ted Williams on 19 Jul 2013


Yes, Ted, I do want to rewrite your “history” because it is wrong.

I note that you didn’t respond to the fact that the Center has supported 81 percent final and proposed delisting rules even though you claimed we “want nothing delisted ever.”

It is disingenuous to claim that you “never reported that Earthjustice sued to strike down the experimental non-essential designation of introduced Yellowstone wolves.” We can all read exactly what you wrote above:

“[Fish and Wildlife Service] designated the transplanted wolves a “non-essential experimental population,” thereby allowing ranchers to shoot any that ranged outside the park and were seen attacking livestock – this to the general horror of the environmental community…In an effort to get full endangered status for Yellowstone wolves, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (now Earthjustice) sued the service on behalf of the National Audubon Society, convincing a federal judge in 1997 to strike down the designation of the Yellowstone population as non-essential.”

Earthjustice sued to prevent natural, wild wolves in Idaho from being managed as experimental non-essential. It did not seek to strike down the designation of the Yellowstone wolves. And yes, the Idaho wolves did exist, it ludicrous to say they were “non-existent.”

It is also ludicrous to double down on the false statement that the Earthjustice suit resulted in order to strike down the Yellowstone designation and kill all the wolves. That happened due to a case brought by the Wyoming Farm Bureau. Indeed, since I already provided you with links to case summaries by the U.S. Department of Justice and Earthjustice, your continued assertion is more than ludicrous, it is malicious. Here is how the Department of Justice, which argued the case, describes it:

“Following the denial of a preliminary injunction motion, the Federal District Court in Wyoming overseeing the litigation involving the Service’s reintroduction of wolves into YNP and central Idaho held that the reintroduction as an experimental species had been improper and declared that the wolves must be removed from YNP and central Idaho. Wyoming Farm Bureau v. Babbitt, 987 F. Supp. 1349 (D. Wyo. 1997).” (http://www.justice.gov/enrd/4694.htm)

This tracks exactly with how Earthjustice describes the case:

“The litigation before Judge Downes consists of three lawsuits concerning the Fish and Wildlife Service's importation of wolves from Canada and their release in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. In their suit, the National Audubon Society plaintiffs challenged the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to withdraw Endangered Species Act protection for naturally occurring wolves in central Idaho… Judge Downes issued his removal order in response to the Farm Bureaus' requests, but ruled that it will not go into effect until the federal Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has considered appeals of his decision...The unfortunate reality is that our case got combined, against our wishes, with that of the Farm Bureau. We are trying to enhance the recovery of wolves in central Idaho the Farm Bureau is trying to stop wolf recovery in both Yellowstone and central Idaho."

It also disingenuous to acknowledge the role of Earthjustice is getting Downes’ ruling overturned. You know very well that Earthjustice appealed the decision and argued the case before the 10th circuit. You don’t acknowledge that because it contradicts the story you invented to defame them. Thus you lay all the credit with another group which did not appeal the decision, but only intervened in the proceedings. That is purposefully misleading.

Regarding litigation and the Endangered Species Act, here is what the current director the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says:

“Can I get frustrated at [Center for Biological Diversity] and WildEarth Guardians, or my good friend Jamie Clark at Defenders [of Wildlife] when they decide to sue us? Yeah, I can. But on balance, I think it's a strength for the Endangered Species Act, and not a weakness. On the scale of the challenges that we face implementing the Endangered Species Act, litigation doesn't even show up on the radar screen." (E&E News, “Lawsuits not hurting Endangered Species Act -- FWS director”, 7/5/12).

Ted, you know Dan Ashe’s position very well. It is not the first time you’ve seen this quote. Yet, you refuse to print it because it contradicts your one-sided diatribe. Instead you recycle supposed quotes from “anonymous” sources that just happen to fit the diatribe perfectly.

Kieran Suckling
Executive Director
Center for Biological Diversity

Posted by Kieran Suckling on 19 Jul 2013


Mr. Williams: I was trying to make the point that, growing up in Missouri, the MDC heralded the turkey revival as America's greatest wildlife restoration success and Kentucky, which has vastly more elk than you think, did the same. And I could have referenced other restoration successes. They are all "the greatest" because they are proclaimed to be. It isn't empiricism, it's advocacy.

It's sad that Yale allows bloviating advocacy to masquerade as journalism. You may be right in your assertions, Mr. Williams, but you've given us no evidence which might demonstrate that you are.

Posted by Constant Gardener on 19 Jul 2013


Ted, interesting perspective and I especially enjoyed the comments. Things haven't changed much in the human drama even though wolves are doing great in the Rm amd WGL. Wolves are still being used as a 100lb club people use to beat other people over the head. The Wildlife Society actually has a position statement on wolf restoration that might be informative. I think it might be helpful to separate the ESA from species recovery issues. I believe the most successful wildlife restoration programs actually happened under state leadership (elk, sheep, turkeys, antelope, deer, black bears, cougars, etc.). Although it is true without the ESA it is doubtful wolves would be in Yellowstone now, I am not convinced the ESA is the best way forward for those of us who belief there are a few more areas where wolf packs could live again and coexist with local people.

Posted by Ed Bangs on 19 Jul 2013


This article strikes me as the best and perhaps the most balanced review of the wolf de-listing debate which has been unfolding in recent years, and typical of Mr Williams who manages to strike such a balance in many of his articles, in what is a continually polarized American environmental field (and in an increasingly politically polarized country).

For someone writing as an environmentalist and in some major popular environmental publications (Audubon magazine and now with this piece in Yale e360), Mr Williams deserves a lot of credit for challenging the tactics of some within the environmental movement who, as he argues, serve mainly to prevent pragmatic solutions that take into account the interests of all parties. It takes some courage to challenge your own environmental constituency, rather than just repeating the standard media reporting themes which cast the wolf issue as a battle between the 'good' of ESA protection vs the 'bad' of the western Rockies states and their ranching and hunting constituencies wanting to resume persecution of wolves. This kind of balanced review is a major contribution to the discourse on this issue and Yale e360 deserves credit for publishing it.

A few other points which go beyond those made in this article, which further fill in the overall wolf recovery debate.

1. On a somewhat conceptual or ideological level, there seems to be something wrong with our conservation movement in the US when much of the environmental community seems to regard delisting species from the ESA as something that should inherently be resisted, rather than celebrating successful recoveries and viewing de-listing as the fundamental purpose of ESA recovery programs- i.e. the essential goal. Even de-listing species such as the bald eagle which are now so obviously widespread seems to be an arduous process. The resistance to de-listing is politically problematic because when recovery targets are set, exceeded, and de-listing still meets such widespread resistance, it would seem to lend credence to those who suspect that environmentalists want to use the ESA as a perpetual regulatory mechanism to prevent more flexible local or state management efforts, and will not revert to non-ESA management even once recovery is achieved. The other problem, and a major one which Mr Williams alludes to, is that it ties up resources in species which are no longer endangered and deprives more endangered and perhaps less well known species critical resources.

2. This article briefly alludes to but does not describe in detail the most recent chapter of wolf recovery in the US, and one of the most significant for their long-term recovery in the western US, which is the recolonization of breeding wolves in the Pacific Northwest. This recovery has proceeded rapidly during the last few years, with multiple breeding packs in Oregon and Washington, with at least 50 adult wolves in both states:

http://www.dfw.state.or.us/wolves/wolf_program_updates_130626.asp

http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01502/

What is so significant about these populations, which have spread west from the Idaho wolf population, is not only the potential for continued growth into new habitat, including into northern California, but the fact that unlike in the northern Rockies, these PNW wolves have a supportive regional political constituency i.e. unlike in Wyoming or Idaho, there is strong support for resident wolves in the PNW at the state level. The PNW wolves will continue to interchange with the Idaho and northern Rockies wolves and create a wider meta-population that can buffer against any reductions in that population, over time.

This is more good news for wolves and provides further justification for the belief that wolf populations in the western US will continue to expand without ESA protection.

Posted by Fred Nelson on 21 Jul 2013


You ask "Please explain to us what the Center for Biological Diversity has accomplished with its litigious onslaught about wolves other than to divide the country and collect attorney fees for itself."

1. It played a critical role in getting the Mexican gray wolf reintroduced to the Southwest. In the early 1990s its founders sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Defense for refusing to establish a Mexican gray wolf recovery program. The parties settled, agreeing to reintroduce wolves and initiate an EIS to pick a recovery zone. The final decision was the Gila/Blue on the Arizona/New Mexico border. And that's were the wolves are today.

2. It initiated the current reform process of the flagging Mexican wolf recovery program. Through an APA petition and a later lawsuit, the Center got the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to agree to change the rules of the program to expand the recovery zone and close loopholes allowing wolves to be killed too easily. The agency is in the final stages of completing that process now.

3. Securing an updated Mexican wolf recovery plan. The current 1983 plan is extremely out of date and does not include recovery goals because the Center had not yet won early 1990s suit to get the reintroduction going. In a settlement over the newer suit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to the sorely needed plan update.

4. Kept wolf numbers high in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes. Suits by the Center and host of other groups prevented the wolves from getting delisted in 2007 when they were at much lower numbers. So when you extol today's high numbers as a great success, keep in mind that if the wolves had been delisted in 2007, the numbers would be much lower.

5. It got the wolf listed as endangered by the state of California via a scientific listing petition. When wolves are finally delisted, all management will be turned over to the states. CA, however, did not even list the wolf as endangered, thus had no protective measures. The Center is changing that.

6. The Center won an injunction on wolf killing in Oregon a couple of years ago that is still in place. This is key reason OR wolves are not experiencing the kind of slaughter we're seeing in the Northern Rockies. To get the injunction lifted, OR's wildlife agency has proposed to strengthen its wolf management plan.

I hope you eventually find a way to look past your intense bitterness and anger to see the many good things being done by many different groups to help wolves. They don’t all agree and they don’t all take the same path, but when all is said and done, it is the combined effort which got wolves to where they are today and which will determine their future tomorrow.

Posted by Steve on 21 Jul 2013


While many commentators seem to arguing the details about who was wrongly credited or blamed, the crux of the article concerns the delisting of wolves. This is essentially answered in his third paragraph, whereby he states, "When a species is out of danger it must be “delisted” so that limited resources can be allocated to species in real trouble."

Delisting does not mean that they will be hunted back into endangerment, but rather that limited resources can be funneled to protect those species in greater need. Never delisting a species would be fine in an ideal world with unlimited resources. However, the continued protection of the wolves, at the expenses of other, more troubled species, is poor environmenatlism.

The second issue, deals with human/wolf interactions in areas that were previously devoid of wolf populations. Here in Michigan, the successful wolf recovery has led to many unfavorable interactions for livestock owners. Tensions have risen between environmentalists and farmers. Parents are also being extra-protective of their young children, and heaven forbid what would happen to the general wolf population, if a child would be killed.

Posted by Daniel on 22 Jul 2013


Excellent article Ted. As a former wildlife biologist who lives in Montana and supported wolf reintroduction, it's been frustrating to say the least to see how several environmental extremist groups (Center for Biol Div being near the top of the list) have abused the 'process' with frivolous lawsuits delaying the delisting of 'recovered wolf populations' for years after most wolf expert stated that wolves were recovered in the northern Rockies. I'd gladly bet the farm that nearly all of these urban dwelling environmentalist and their advocacy groups who get most of their biology from the NatGeo and Disney channels would look upon this issue quite differently if they had to actually live with and suffer the consequences of high wolf populations in their own backyards.

Posted by Denver Bryan on 22 Jul 2013


Mr. Suckling: For once let us attempt to have a productive dialogue. To do this let’s start with something you agree with me on--the exemplarity performance of the Wolf Fund for which I worked in the 80s and 90s. I daresay you would also agree with my original statement that it did more than any other NGO to get wolves back in Yellowstone. So take it straight from the director and founder of the Wolf Found - our mutual ally and my dear friend, Renee Askins. Her words following the court decision:

"The government has no choice but to undertake an all-out killing program that will most likely include shooting, trapping, poisoning and gassing. This program will repeat the massacre of wolves that led to their extermination 70 years ago.

"In the end the plaintiffs' lofty motives to protect the ESA resulted not in protecting the ESA, but in harming what the ESA protects. In pursuing the letter of the law they deeply violated the spirit of the law. There are few cases that so clearly illustrate the high-minded conservationist's penchant for missing the forest for the trees or winning the battle but losing the war.

"After enduring our arrogance and intervention, our dart guns and chainlink, our ear tags and radio collars, they (the transplanted wolves) are now faced with the consummate act of human hubris--a second extermination from our nation's oldest national park."

Congrats on “supporting” some delistings. You guys seem awful quite about it. Does support mean you didn’t oppose?

Yes, there were transient wolves in Idaho. Yellowstone wolves basically existed in the imagination of Earthjustice. They were missing for decades, and there is no proof they entered the park.

Yes, Earthjustice appealed the decision after it realized the disastrous results of its successful litigation. The Wolf Fund realized the results BEFORE they happened. We and others pled with Earthjustice not to proceed. We warned it to “be careful what you wish for.” Instead it barged ahead.

I am not trying to beat up Earthjustice I think it learned a lot for its blunder (I know its client did) and Earthjustice does some great stuff today. But you and Yale readers need to understand history.

Not sure why you are bringing Dan Ashe into this. Dan’s opinion doesn’t “contradict” anything. It’s an opinion. (By the way, I received a phone call from one of his spokespeople heartily congratulating me for this piece.)

Posted by Ted Williams on 22 Jul 2013


Steve:
The center and its founders didn’t do the Mexican
wolf any favors with their sundry lawsuits that
pushed the Fish and Wildlife Service into fast-
forward recovery before it had a chance to do
the proper outreach. As a result, the wolves got
shot, and today they’re not close to being
recovered. Only about 50 in the wild. That
program stands in perfect contrast to the
successful recovery of the Rocky Mountain and
Lake States wolves where the Fish and Wildlife
Service and Park Service, with the help of
groups like the Wolf Fund, did do the outreach.
Also, as I explained in my piece, the center and
its co-litigants hurt species that actually faced
extinction with suits “that prevented the wolves
from getting delisted in 2007” after the
populations had far surpassed recovery goals.
The issue was not and is not, as you say,
“keeping the numbers high.” The issue is this:
When a species is no longer threatened with
extinction (even if it hasn’t re-occupied all its
former habitat) it MUST be taken off the
Endangered Species List so that limited
resources can be allocated where they are most
needed and so the ESA doesn’t lose credibility.

I am fully aware of “the many good things being
done by many different groups to help wolves.”
I am also fully aware of the many hurtful things
that have been done by well-meaning but
politically naïve folks who don’t understand
wildlife biology or human behavior. Finally, I
confess to being “angry and bitter.” Any wildlife
advocate who is not is not paying attention.

Posted by Ted Williams on 23 Jul 2013


Hello Ted. I read with interest your article on wolf recovery and delisting, as well as the subsequent and spirited commentary. I see offerings from good friends, like Kieran Suckling and Ed Bangs. Of course, there is much with which I agree, and some with which I disagree. But the dialogue is important, and I appreciate your time and attention to this great conservation issue. I mostly appreciate your final sentence: "the Service has shown that it is good at listening." We have made a proposal, we have laid out our reasoning and the science that we believe supports it. We have done this in a transparent and open process and we have engaged our state partners. Now, it's important for good dialogue and good listening to take place. Thanks for helping this process unfold.

But as we undertake this dialogue, let's also be sobered by the news that, today, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee marked up a FY 2014 funding bill that will cut the budget of the Service by 27 percent (over $400 million). We need unity within the conservation community, more than ever before! Let's have spirited dialogue, but let's also realize that unless we can turn this funding debacle around, debate about whether wolves are listed or delisted may be the conservation equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns.

Posted by Dan Ashe on 23 Jul 2013


I find Ted's concern about "productive dialogue" to be less than believable. Did he think he was initiating a productive dialogue with environmental groups by aggressively attacking and falsely accusing them? Productive dialogues result from thoughtful presentation, truth and a respect for difference. Ted's piece was none of these. It was a one-sided, polemical scree. It generated the response that such attacks always generate: anger, counter-arguments, assertions of falsity, etc.

There are many complicated issues to discuss about the recovery of wolves. How is recovery defined? What is the best way to handle conflicts between predators and the ranching industry? Any chance of that discussion was blown by Ted's attack style journalism.

Posted by Steve on 23 Jul 2013


Current debates over gray wolves are not just about one endangered species. They are about public trust and the balance of power between the three branches of government, the public, and special interests. Mr. T. Williams writes in support of the 2013 notice by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to remove federal protections for gray wolves (except Mexican wolves) in the lower 48 states. We see the decision as premature.

We agree with Mr. Williams on several of the following points but suggest a deeper look. Yes, the return of wolves has been a landmark success — but the vast majority of wolves’ historic range within the lower 48 remains unoccupied. Yes, the FWS has successfully navigated between vocal, powerful interest groups to achieve the current wolf status — but it is now trying to abdicate its statutory responsibilities. Yes the FWS spent a great deal of money litigating – but five federal courts in different regions deciding against the FWS substantiates the validity of the claims. We come to a very different conclusion about wolf recovery in the USA.

We see evidence the federal government misconstrued the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and available science – and it did so repeatedly after being warned by judges five times and scientists even more often.

Recall that each lawsuit was triggered by the government’s proactive decisions to reduce or remove federal protections for wolves.Courts repeatedly concluded the FWS erred in interpreting or applying the ESA. Certainly elements of the ESA are complicated and imprecise but the FWS repeatedly failed to make its case. Furthermore the FWS appears to have ignored scientific evidence, which is difficult to attribute to judges, plaintiffs, or the ESA. The June 2013 notice in the Federal Register is a perfect example of ignoring evidence.

The core of the FWS argument is that human tolerance for wolves is too low outside their current range to allow feasible recovery there.

“The areas that wolves currently occupy correspond to ‘suitable’ wolf habitat…[t]he areas considered ‘unsuitable’ ... are not occupied by wolves due to human and livestock presence and the associated lack of tolerance of wolves…” (Federal Register June 13, 2013, p. 35,680)

The FWS argument continues – therefore the current range is the suitable habitat and wolves can be stripped of federal protections throughout the rest of its historic range which is unsuitable habitat. Satisfaction with this argument reflects a misperception of the ESA and ignorance of the best available science that tolerance is actually higher outside of the current wolf range.


The ESA is not simply about ensuring that species do not go extinct. The ESA also requires a recovered species to be well distributed throughout its former range. Wolves certainly do not meet that criterion in the lower 48. Failure to meet this condition has been an important and legitimate motivation for law suits against the FWS decisions.

The government is bound by the ESA to base its decisions on the best available science. Yet the FWS decision cited above did not refer to any of the scientific literature on human attitudes toward wolves – despite more than 100 peer-reviewed papers on the topic. Moreover a meta-analysis conducted more than a decade ago by C.K. Williams (no relation) and co-authors, synthesized the results of 37 studies and found tolerance for wolves was higher outside their current range. Our work on tolerance for wolves in Wisconsin published in 2009 and 2013 supports the point and indicates declining tolerance is associated with higher approval for human-caused mortality. In sum, evidence shows tolerance for wolves is higher outside current wolf range, and where it is lower inside wolf range it leads to greater threats to wolves—e.g., illegal killing. Ironically the FWS paid for part of our study and we shared results with them in 2012 before publication.

In sum, the FWS would strip federal protections for wolves in the majority of its historic range even though human-caused mortality is less threatening there (judging from the human tolerance studies related above). (Note to readers: you can comment on the decision until 11 September).

The FWS didn’t just make a logical error. Their 2013 actions on wolves will weaken the ESA, our strongest law for protecting wild plants and animals. How? By capitulating to the primary threat to wolves in the lower 48 — unregulated killing— and asserting that it is not feasible to reduce such killing. A primary purpose of the ESA is to abate threats to endangered species. The ESA and FWS helped to reduce human-caused mortality since wolves were listed. The ESA remains our strongest law for protecting wild plants and animals. Why weaken it? Why can’t the FWS succeed in more of wolves’ historic range?

Even if the FWS succeeds in abdicating its responsibilities, this will not stop lawsuits over wolf policy. We should expect more lawsuits from diverse groups inside and outside wolf range – especially in states that are now seeking dramatic reductions in wolf populations. Lawsuits at state levels will likely be motivated by the public trust doctrine (PTD) applied to wildlife. The PTD holds that wildlife belong to current and future citizens, and the government acts as trustee for preserving the use whether extractive (e.g., hunting) or non-extractive (e.g., viewing, scientific study, or ecological integrity). Decades of opinion research prove many in the public care about how U.S. wildlife agencies manage wolves. The blame for litigation seems to lie, not with the plaintiffs as Mr. Williams would, but with the federal government ignoring the public trust, the best available science, and the statutory ESA language.

This debate is not only about the fate of one species. This debate is about the public trust, what it means to be an endangered species, and the obligation of government to preserve our natural resources for current and future generations.

Adrian Treves, PhD
University of Wisconsin–Madison
http://faculty.nelson.wisc.edu/treves/

John Vucetich, PhD
Michigan Technological University

Jeremy Bruskotter, PhD
The Ohio State University

Posted by Adrian Treves on 25 Jul 2013


Mr. Williams,

You raise some interesting issues, but would be more convincing if you dialed down the exaggeration and resisted the urge to demonize those you so clearly hate. This tendency causes you to make false statements which in a semi-professional setting like this will go long
without rebut all.

The Center for Biological Diversity, for example, assuredly did not rush the Mexican gray wolf recovery program. They sued the FWS after it declared the wolf unrecoverable and suspended
funding. Were it not for their suit challenging the designation, the wolf would never have been
introduced. The timeline of that introduction, byte, was seven years. Plenty of time for the state and federal agencies to go through extended public discussions and process.

Please try in the future to honestly present the history instead of lashing out so harshly and misleadingly.

Posted by Jeremy Benway on 28 Jul 2013


Jeremy:
Example: In 2009, as a result of the center’s litigation, USFWS cancelled policy of removing Mexican wolves that killed livestock. USFWS had been making effort on outreach. Result: locals shot the wolves themselves including the ones that weren’t killing livestock.

Posted by Ted Williams on 29 Jul 2013


Ted, you should really take a closer look at wolf numbers before lashing out. When we won our suit in 2009, the Mexican gray wolf population had declined to 42 wolves, its lowest point since 2002. Since then it has grown to 75 wolves, with both 2011 and 2012 being historic highs. This is because contrary to your assertion, both legal and illegal killings/removals declined after the suit. Removals declined from 32 (07-09) to 3 (10-12). Illegal killings declined from 12 (08-09) to 7 (11-12). The cancelation if the wolf killing policy absolutely benefited the Mexican gray wolf.

Look we all get that you believe your contribution to wolf recovery was exceptionally critical. You've repeated that several times. We also get that you hate wolf litigation and that you have a special vitriol for the Center for Biological Diversity. Fine. You are entitled to your pride and prejudice. What you are not entitled to is maligning others with false statements.

Kieran Suckling
Executive Director
Center for Biological Diversity

Posted by Kieran Suckling on 30 Jul 2013


Thank goodness the Center filed suit to overturn the disastrous rule (SOP 13) which resulted in enormous numbers of wolves being killed or rounded up. The wolf was declining at that time and all agreed the recovery program was failing. Scientists, conservationists, many inside FWS, a federal review panel, and the State of New Mexico all pinpointed the policy as the central problem. So it was no surprise that the elimination of the rule resulted in an immediate reduction in killing and a big jump in population numbers. It is a perfect example of how litigation can help endangered species and keep the system honest. Mr. Williams is terribly misinformed and misinforming to claim otherwise.

Posted by Westen on 30 Jul 2013


Yes, wolves should continue to be protected. We have hardly got them to the point they weren't endangered and now they are again and it will destroy all the work done int the past several years. Plus they are a great benefits to our ecosystem.

Posted by susan Wilson on 02 Aug 2013


Please save the wolf. It is the only animal demonized by modern politics. Wolves are beneficial to ecosystems and are related to all dogs, which makes them beneficial to humans.

Posted by Andrea Bowen on 03 Aug 2013


Removing a recovering species too quickly or when "numbers" look acceptable is a classic case of early stage, managed, incremental loss. Because in two or three years we will determine that the "numbers" are falling and we need protection, again.

Humans are not very good at measuring the dynamics of complex ecosystems and should far overshoot what they think is the right amount.

Give it a couple of more years to see if the balance is different and still in need of change.

Posted by Cameron on 04 Aug 2013


One of the greatest failures of human natural resource management has been the use of treaties, agreements, and regulatory statutes to restore high levels of species presence in their natural habitats.

This is the case almost everywhere, where "tradeoffs" — catch allotments, shooting rights, etc. — are manipulated to "game the system" and in the process ratchet down the pool of species necessary for their survival.

Making the leap to removing ANY limits too soon is a recipe for complete failure. Add 15-20 percent MORE time to every no-catch/shoot/kill program, and you will almost keep them from extinction.
Posted by Kathryn Papp on 24 Aug 2013


Though I do love gray and Mexican wolves, I noticed that this article failed to mention red wolves, and they are the most endangered in the United States. They were extinct in the wild in 1980 and only 100-120 are in the wild today.

I agree that wolves are necessary in order for the ecosystem to be as it should, and will always support them.

Go wolves!
Posted by Gabby on 29 Aug 2013


Exactly what does Williams hope to accomplish by trying to discredit important environmental organizations like the Center for Biodiversity? Between his huge ego and self-congratulatory tones, it's not surprising that Williams needs mounted heads on his walls to feel big and strong. After watching him try and match wits with Kieran Suckling, it looks like I have my money on the right fighter.

Posted by Keli Hendricks on 01 Oct 2013


Wolves are my life and I think they should be saved.
Posted by Taegan Endecott on 12 Nov 2013


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ted williamsABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ted Williams, an avid hunter and angler, writes strictly about fish and wildlife conservation. He is a longtime contributor to Audubon magazine, where he writes the award-winning Incite column, and is conservation editor for Fly Rod & Reel magazine. In a previous article for Yale Environment 360, he reported on how lead bullets were posing a new threat to the California condor.
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