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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Downgrading Wolf Protections

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Robert Braille considers the recent controversies over downgrading protections for wolves.


CURWOOD: At Yellowstone National Park, managing a population of wolves is also stirring controversy. The US Court of Appeals is reviewing an order by a district judge to remove wolves that were reintroduce into the park as part of a recovery program back in 1995. At the same time, US Fish and Wildlife officials are considering offering less protection under the Endangered Species Act for wolves at Yellowstone and elsewhere. Commentator Robert Braille says those officials should think again.

BRAILLE: A century ago, hordes of wolves roamed North America, howling in the night. But the Federal government silenced them, underwriting years of bounty hunting to appease settlers worried about their livestock. In 1973 it saw the light and decided to protect the wolves under the Endangered Species Act. But by then it had virtually annihilated them, leaving the night unnaturally still.

Over the past quarter century the wolves have slowly come back. There are about 2,700 now. The Federal government wants more, but it's putting politics ahead of principle in trying to get them. Oddly, to save the wolves, the US Fish and Wildlife Service wants to downgrade their status under the Endangered Species Act from endangered to threatened in most of the country. The reason is that some ranchers, farmers, and other property owners are refusing to cooperate in wolf recovery efforts as long as the wolves are classified as endangered. They fear they'll lose control over their lands to an overbearing Federal law, and the Federal bureaucrats who enforce it. So they're blocking those efforts, even though that's what the law requires.

In response, the Service wants to bend the law rather than enforce it. It wants to ease the wolf's status to threatened and give the property owners more say in what happens. In exchange, it hopes to win some real on-the-ground protection for the wolves. It may be less protection than they deserve or than the law requires. But, the Service says, it's better than no protection at all.

Some might applaud the Service for being so reasonable. If winning over the property owners means compromising the law, maybe it's worth it. But the Endangered Species Act is not a suggestion, malleable in any way its critics desire. It is a law, one Congress enacted to save plants and animals that we ourselves have brought to the brink of extinction. That's why we have it. It's also why we have the Fish and Wildlife Service: to enforce it. But thanks to politics, neither is working for America's wolves right now. And until they do, the night will remain unnaturally still.

CURWOOD: Commentator Robert Braille writes about the environment for the Boston Globe.



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