Congress v. Endangered Species - Wolves Up For A Vote
<Editor's Note: Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen has released a statement about the organization's continuing efforts to protect the gray wolf.>
The fate of gray wolves—and of the Endangered Species Act itself—may be voted on at any time in the climax of an historic struggle in Congress over budgeting and political philosophy.
Congress took its first stab at approving a full fiscal year 2011 budget on Feb. 19, and unfortunately the House GOP majority and some Democrats proposed slashing billions in public funding and eliminated safeguards for our air, water and wildlife, as well as two dozen anti-environmental policy provisions (riders).
The Senate alternative, unveiled March 4, excluded all of the these anti-environmental riders except one: a rider ordering the Interior Secretary to reinstate a court-overturned 2009 rule. The rule delisted wolves within portions of the northern Rockies, including Montana, Idaho and portions of Utah, Oregon and Washington. It insulated that rule from court review. If enacted, this would be the first time in the ESA’s history that Congress has legislatively delisted a species.
However, on March 9 the Senate rejected both proposals to fund the federal government for the remainder of FY2011. For now, the wolf has been granted a temporary reprieve, but the inclusion of even one anti-environmental rider in a bill eventually passed by the Senate would greatly complicate negotiations for both them and the White House when facing the revolutionaries of the House with their basket full of harmful provisions.
For years, Earthjustice has gone to court to ensure that wolves can recover from the brink of extinction in the northern Rocky Mountains.
Wolves in the lower-48 states were essentially wiped out a few decades ago and have made a slow comeback in the northern Rocky Mountains after reintroduction into Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s. There are now just over 1,600 gray wolves in this region, but the proposed delisting would allow the Rocky Mountain states to maintain at most 300 to 450 wolves—far short of the 2,000 to 3,000 number needed for a sustainable, fully recovered population.
Earthjustice and other conservation groups are concerned because when Congress enacted the law in 1973, it specifically stated that delisting decisions are to be made by wildlife experts in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service—not by politicians.
The very idea that congressional leaders are targeting the gray wolf sets an alarming precedent and could spell disaster for other “politically unpopular” animals—grizzly bears, salmon and polar bears among them.
Although the short-term spending bills that are keeping the government running for now are devoid of anti-environmental policy riders, the fight to protect our air, water, and treasured wildlife is not over. The current resolution expires April 8, so we can expect another round of attacks in the imminent future.
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