More than 460,000 Americans filed official comments calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to scrap its controversial proposal to remove federal protections from the gray wolf and instead work to advance wolf recovery in the United States. A scientific peer review released in early February 2014 unanimously concluded that a federal plan to drop protections for most gray wolves was not based on the best available science.
These new comments and the results of the scientific peer review follow on the heels of the submission of approximately one million comments in late 2013 requesting that FWS continue to protect gray wolves. These comments represent the highest number of submissions ever to FWS on an endangered species, showing America’s overwhelming support for the charismatic wolf.
“When it comes to taking the wolf off of the endangered species list, Secretary Jewell told the public, ‘It’s about the science. And you do what the science says.’ It’s now time to stand by both her stated commitment to follow science and the will of the American people. She must immediately rescind the wolf delisting rule,” said Leda Huta, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “As the top official in charge of wildlife and wild places, Secretary Jewell should ensure that gray wolves have the chance to fully recover wherever there is suitable habitat. Policy decisions about wolves and other wildlife should be based on the best science, not politics.”
“Science should be the lynchpin of every species listing decision and science should be the most significant factor guiding decisions on what ‘recovery’ looks like for our nation’s imperiled plants and animals,” said Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark. “The Fish and Wildlife Service should withdraw the delisting proposal for wolves and instead put science first to chart a sustainable recovery path for wolves throughout the U.S.”
“It’s time for the Obama administration to acknowledge what a growing number of Americans and our top scientists see very clearly—America’s gray wolves still need federal protection,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “That’s what the public comment period and scientific peer review is all about—to make sure we get it right when it comes to protecting our most imperiled species. Now the only question is whether the Obama administration will follow the science or the politics.”
There were once up to 2 million gray wolves living in North America, but the animals were driven to near-extinction in the lower 48 states by the early 1900s. After passage of the federal Endangered Species Act in 1973 and protection of the wolf as endangered, federal recovery programs resulted in the rebound of wolf populations in limited parts of the country. Roughly 5,500 wolves currently live in the continental United States—a fraction of the species’ historic numbers.
“Instead of restoring wolves to their rightful places from coast to coast—as it did for bald eagles—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to abandon wolf recovery before the job is done,” said Marty Hayden, Earthjustice vice-president for policy and legislation. “More than a million people have now told FWS to go back to work and protect our wolves.”
Last year the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across most of the lower 48 states. The Obama administration’s proposal would remove protections for wolves everywhere except Arizona and New Mexico, where the Mexican wolf is struggling to survive with just 83 wolves in the wild. This proposal would abandon protections for wolves in places where recovery remains in its infancy, such as Oregon and Washington, and would prevent wolves from recovering in places where good wolf habitat has been identified, including northern California, the southern Rocky Mountains and the Northeast.
Nicole Paquette, vice president of wildlife protection for The Humane Society of the United States said: “After the federal government prematurely gave up its duty to protect wolves, the states of Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming all rushed to hold hunting and trapping seasons. Thousands of wolves have been barbarically killed over bait, with hounds and cable neck snares. The Service’s proposal puts politics over its obligation to use the best available science, and threatens wolves with the risk of being driven back to near extinction.”
“Oregon wolves have taken the first tentative steps towards recovery in the last few years,” said Sean Stevens, executive director with Oregon Wild. “If the Obama administration takes away the strong protections of the Endangered Species Act, we pull the rug out from the fragile success story here on the West Coast and leave the fate of wolves in the hands of state agencies in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming who have proven incapable of balanced management.”
“We have unique opportunities and challenges here in the Northeast,” said Maggie Howell, Wolf Conservation Center. “The Northeast Wolf Coalition is working together using the most current peer reviewed science to raise awareness and increase public understanding about wolves. A broad base of public support is necessary for wolves to recover and we remain committed to ensuring that stakeholders become active stewards in that regard. There are biological, economic and ethical reasons to facilitate wolf recovery and the Coalition is eager to work with area residents, organizations, and state and federal agencies to promote the wolf’s natural return to our region.”
“More than one million American’s have made their views clear to the Service: A large majority of the public want wolves back on the landscape and it’s too premature to hand over management to states where the trap and bullet still define predator management,” said Camilla Fox, Project Coyote founder & executive director. “It’s time that the Service employ best science and not allow special interests to dictate wolf management in this country.”
“Removing protections from the wolf makes it difficult for national parks like Olympic and Crater Lake to be as wild and wonderful as they should be,” said Rob Smith, Northwest Regional Director for National Parks Conservation Association. “The parks need wolves and visitors want them there.”
When a young person asked Interior Secretary Jewell about wolves in a public forum in June 2013, Jewell replied, “[The removal of Endangered Species Act protections] is not something I actually have a choice (sic). It’s about science and you do what the science says.” See the video at http://www.endangered.org/its-about-science
The group Kids 4 Wolves followed that with their own amazing video, http://www.endangered.org/kids-to-secretary-jewell-follow-the-science. The video features children from across the country urging Sec. Jewell to follow the science and keep wolves protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The independent scientific peer review released in early February was commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and conducted by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. The panel of independent scientists concluded unanimously that FWS’s national wolf delisting rule does not currently represent the “best available science.” In light of these findings, FWS’s proposed delisting rule contravenes the Endangered Species Act, which mandates that protection decisions must be based on the best available science.
“The effort to cut legal protections for wolves ran headlong into actual science and lost,” said Andrew Wetzler, Director of Land and Wildlife Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It is time for the Fish & Wildlife Service to rethink their effort. And this new flood of comments shows the public will be watching the Obama Administration and expect the science to end this delisting campaign.”
In addition to the nearly half a million comments submitted by the American public in recent weeks, ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee Peter DeFazio (D-OR) released a bipartisan letter co-signed by 73 House members urging Secretary Jewell to continue protections for gray wolves and rescind the proposed delisting rule immediately.