Now Anti-Wolf Groups Are Blowing ItThe pendulum swings. Pro-wolf groups pushed too hard and too long, but now anti-wolf hunting groups are taking extreme positions that worsen an already almost unbearable situation and make any reasonable outcome even more unlikely.
By Bill Schneider
That must be how wildlife managers or advocates who actually want to resolve the wolf-delisting impasse must feel.
On September 23, I posted a commentary with the title, Pro-Wolf Groups Blew It where I criticized the left-leaning plaintiffs in the various lawsuits for pushing too hard, too long and turning fence-sitters and most Western politicians into the anti-wolf camp and possibly endangering the integrity of the Endangered Species Act.
Now, the pendulum has swung to the far right.
Energized by newfound support from basically every Western senator and representative, anti-wolf hunting groups such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Mule Deer Foundation and Sportsman for Fish and Wildlife have not only insisted on extreme actions but, incredibly, also want to keep wildlife agencies and green groups from even talking to each other about a possible compromise.
If you followed my commentaries on the wolf issue, which I call "The Neverending Story," you know that I have frequently and fiercely urged the stakeholders to sit down and work out a deal. I have even fantasized about being in charge of the negotiations, so I could order the stakeholders to bring a sleeping bag and a stack of pizzas, because we'd all be locked in a room until we can agree on a solution.
More Than Numbers
The wolf delisting controversy is much more than numbers, but the number of wolves does seem to be a key sticking point.
Anti-wolfers don't want any "surplus wolves" around eating elk and deer, so they insist that the original recovery goal of 300 wolves (100 animals or 10 breeding pairs per state for Idaho, Montana and Wyoming) is all we need, period. Well, guys, that goal isn't even close to reality, so give it up.
The 300-wolf number is the "minimum" recovery goal, not the population levels states should shoot for in management plans. Although the original recovery plan states 300 wolves constitutes a "viable population" (assuming travel corridors secure enough to assure "genetic connectivity"), it doesn't say states should manage at that population level. Montana's management plan, for example, which is the best of the bunch, already calls for maintaining a wolf population of 400 to 450 animals, just in Montana.
The final delsting rule written by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) lists three "triggers" which require a "status review," or actual relisting, under the ESA:
1. If wolf numbers in any state fall below 100 wolves. (In other words, Montana could have 500 wolves, but if Idaho's population fell to 90, the wolf would probably be relisted.)
2. If wolf numbers fell below 150 per state for three consecutive years.
3. If a state passed a new state law or approved a new management plan that could cause a significant threat to the wolf population.
Yet, anti-wolfers want only 300 wolves? Hello?! At the least, that's totally self-defeating. Having only 300 wolves would virtually guarantee the FWS would relist wolves and take management away from state wildlife agencies.
Even managing for 150 wolves per state would be "knife-edge management." Any other factor could come into play, such as a canine disease, and put the wolf back on the endangered species list.
Face it: There will always be more than 300 wolves running around the northern Rockies. If hunting groups can't back off this extreme position (and stop calling it "moving the goal posts"), we'll never get to the finish line.
All Wolf News is not Bad News
A few weeks ago, EarthJustice representing the plaintiffs and the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department (FWP) actually started talking about a settlement that could end the impasse, at least in Montana. Proposals and counterproposals have been made. Suddenly, it seems like something good could happen. Eureka!
Such talks are touchy, and they need to be conducted in private, not on the Internet, so I hope the press stands down to give the talkers a chance to succeed. I'm not sure what all might be involved in such a "settlement" or how it would affect Judge Donald Molloy's August 5 ruling that relisted the wolf as an endangered species, nor do I know if any kind of Montana-only plan might fly. But let's keep talking, OK?
Two things I'm sure will be in any such settlement are (1) a minimum, sustainable Montana population level way north of 100 wolves and (2) assurances from the plaintiffs that they'll help Montana be exempted from the current court ruling and hence restore state wolf management.
Then, out of the blue, comes this press release and letter from the bosses of the three hunting groups. In their letter to Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and FWP Director Joe Maurier, they say stop negotiating with those evil animal rights groups. You can't trust them, they say, and we should use science to determine wolf populations.
Yes, this really revs up my motor, but where do I to start?
For starters, I suppose I should say that I often agree with the policies of these hunting groups, but on this issue, they need to be called out.
They criticize FWP for talking about something other than "science-based wolf management plans," which, incidentally, Montana already has--and I'm quite sure wouldn't consider anything less. Yet, on the other hand, these same groups want a totally political solution. They're pushing Congress to amend the ESA to disallow listing of the gray wolf in all 12 states where the species occurs, even in those states with obviously endangered populations and, I might add, with zero scientific basis for doing so.
They criticize FWP for "closed-door settlement talks" when emissaries of these same groups are just back from Washington, D.C., where they had closed-door talks and tried to--and almost succeeded--tack a midnight rider on a Continuing Resolution to remove the wolf totally and forever from being protected under of the ESA. That's scientific, eh?
They criticize FWP for not including other stakeholders in the settlement talks or having "public comment periods," but again, these same guys are back in D.C. lobbying for a midnight rider without including other stakeholders such as representatives of wildlife agencies or agricultural groups. And congressional riders don't allow for any public input or have a recordable vote.
They criticize the plaintiffs for using the wolf to sell memberships and as a fundraising tool, but they're doing the same thing. I don't imagine it hurts membership sales and donations for hunting groups to stay up on the soapbox publicly ranting about hundreds of "surplus" wolves running around the northern Rockies eating all the elk and deer.
I could go on, but you get the point. No wonder it takes us forever to get nowhere.
The Art of Reality
As I've suggested several times, reasonable people can agree on a reasonable reality. Accuse me of being a "wolf moderate," but we really need to treat the wolf issue like a labor negotiation. Just hunkering down and refusing to negotiate is not an option. We must move on. Montana's wolf management plan pretty much embodies that coveted middle-ground concept. The plaintiffs don't worship it, of course, but they agree it's better than Idaho's plan and way better than Wyoming's non-plan.
Green groups will oppose any Congressional action to resolve the wolf controversy, but now that's the name of the game. Unless something happens soon, Congressional action will become our default position. And it could happen very soon, such as in the upcoming lame-duck session of the 111th Congress.
If Congress ends up "solving the wolf problem," I certainly hope lawmakers won't consider extreme approaches such as H.R. 6028 sponsored by Congressman Chet Edwards (D-TX) and 14 co-sponsored including Congressmen Denny Rehberg (R-MT) or S. 3919 sponsored by senators from Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, all Republicans.
Another bill, S. 3864, sponsored by Montana Democratic Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester is a more moderate approach, but it could be problematic because it calls for leaving the wolf on the endangered species list until the FWS approves state management plans, which might not happen or not happen expeditiously. At least S. 3864 only covers Idaho and Montana and doesn't include states without plans, like Wyoming, or states with beginning, obviously endangered wolf populations, like Oregon, Utah and Washington.
I can't say I buy the Baucus-Tester bill completely, but at least somebody is out there trying do something reasonable that might become reality.
In conclusion, here's one point on which we all can agree: We outdoor writers will have a lot of wolf stories to write about for a long, long time thanks to all this futile polarization.