Thursday, April 14, 2011

Northern Rockies Gray Wolves: passing budget legislation could seal their fate

With important budget legislation needing to be passed, the machinations of tit-for-tat politics was in high gear this past week. Beneath the headlines of government shutdowns being avoided and federal funding for the remainder of the year being passed, there hides the legislative rider or amendment that gets slipped in to grease the wheels of political progress.

This week, the gray wolf, which has been the subject of a back and forth battle in the U.S. Rocky Mountain states over its status as an endangered species, appears to be once again in the cross hairs of state-approved eradication meant to satisfy cattlemen and sport hunters.

But of even greater potential concern is what the legislative rider's language seems to imply regarding the future ability of the Endangered Species Act to protect any animal or plant from economic or non-environmental interests that could threaten a species' survival.

As reported by Associated Press,
" The White House is poised to accept a budget bill that includes an unprecedented end-run around Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in five Western states — the first time Congress has targeted a species protected under the 37-year-old law.

Lawmakers describe the provision in the spending bill as a necessary intervention in a wildlife dilemma that some say has spun out of control. Sixty-six wolves were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies from Canada in the mid-1990s; there are now at least 1,650.

But legal experts warn the administration's support of lifting protections for the animals opens the door to future meddling by lawmakers catering to anti-wildlife interests.

The endangered act has long been reviled by conservatives who see it as a hindrance to economic development. Now, the administration's support for the wolf provision signals that protections for even the most imperiled animals, fish and plants are negotiable given enough political pressure, experts said.

'The president could have used some political capital to influence this and he didn't,' said Patrick Parenteau, a professor of environmental law from the Vermont Law School. 'The message to the environmental community is, don't count on the administration to be there for the protection of endangered species.'

Environmentalists still count Obama as an ally on other issues, ranging from climate change and wilderness preservation to oil and gas exploration. Yet experts in wildlife law say that in the scramble to pass the budget, the administration is circumventing one of the country's bedrock environmental laws."

This is an issue that dates back to the prior Bush administration and the many attempts it made to thwart or neutralize the Endangered Species Act or the EPA's Clean Air Act, often by trying to eliminate independent scientific research and recommendations from the process and putting the final determination of ecological or environmental decisions solely in the hands of politicians.

It would appear that, with a new administration, we are faced with that challenge once again.

"We are having the worst attack on the Endangered Species Act in 30 years while we have a Democratic Senate and a Democratic White House," said Kieran Suckling, Executive Director of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). "They are trying to shut citizens and scientists out of the endangered species process."

Organizations like the Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, and others have been fighting for the continued survival of the Northern Rockies' gray wolves. It has been a long battle but also a classic example of what can happen to an ecosystem when it loses a primary predator. When the gray wolf population was thinned out to protect cattle interests, rodent and deer populations exploded which threatened grazing land.

With environmental protections, the number of gray wolves has steadily increased. However, the total number does not reflect the isolated nature of individual or regional wolf packs. The loss of just a few wolves can have a disastrous effect on the fate of an entire pack, and so the fabric that makes up an entire wolf population is very fragile and not as resilient as politicians or the cattle industry lobbyists would have you believe.

“Tens of millions of dollars were spent building up the wolf population in the northern Rockies and giving wolves a toehold in Washington and Oregon," says CBD's Suckling. "Now, in one fell swoop, that investment is being swept away. Wolves in Washington and Oregon may disappear in a few years. Those in the northern Rockies will begin plummeting and may be lost in a few decades.”

Read about the gray wolf in Yahoo News.
Read a press release from CBD.
Send a letter to President Obama regarding preserving the gray wolves.

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