Wolf Delisting: The Neverending Story

By Beacon Staff

There isn’t much agreement when it comes to delisting the wolf from the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but alas, it seems there might be one point pro-wolfers, anti-wolfers, wolf agencies and a whole lot of people who’d like to see something different in the news can agree on. We should call it, “The Neverending Story.”

Or perhaps, more apropos: “The Neverending Story – Because Wyoming Keeps Helping Enviros Make It So.” The subtitle could be: “Wyoming’s Livestock Industry Continues Helping Colorado Establish Its Wolf Population.”

In February, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar infuriated pro-wolfers, most of whom voted for his new boss, by essentially re-submitting the Bush’s disputed delisting plan, with one exception – the wolf would remain an endangered species in Wyoming.

Idaho and Montana welcomed the news and started dusting off plans for wolf-hunting seasons this fall at the same time pro-wolf groups rushed to the media with threats of litigation. Within two hours of Salazar’s announcement I received four press releases from greens vowing to immediately sue to stop delisting in Idaho and Montana. The delisting rule was due for publication in the Federal Register last Thursday, the same day a dozen green groups declared their intent to sue to keep it from going into effect with the suit actually filed sometime in the next 60 days. As I write this, wolf delisting is in the same place it has been for two years, going nowhere fast.

I believe, as do most biologists, that delisting on state lines is about as unscientific as you can get, which virtually guarantees the greens will win again in court and keep the Big Dog on the endangered species list. If that isn’t Salazar’s true intention, it might as well be.

Perhaps it’s Wyoming’s real plan, too. Either that or the cowboys have seriously misplayed their hand.

Wyoming insists on a dual-status for the wolf, declaring it “trophy game” in the northwestern corner around Yellowstone National Park and a predator in the other 90 percent of the state. In Wyoming, predators, especially wolves, are extremely susceptible to lead poisoning. Here’s what Wyoming could have done:

Several times, politicos in the Cowboy State had an opportunity to say, “OK, Uncle Sam, we give up. We accept your control over us. We’re sorry for being so stubborn and uncooperative, but we’ll be good from now on, promise. We accept the supreme council of the federal government and agree to make the wolf a trophy game animal throughout the entire state.”

That sounds like something a politician in Wyoming would say, don’t you think?

What would happen next? I speculate the delisting plan would have moved rapidly forward. Greens would have still sued, of course, but without the Wyoming issue, they might not have won.

Assuming the feds whopped the enviros in court, presto, Wyoming would have had complete control of its wolf population. Then, shortly after gaining control, the Legislature could have implemented its dual-status law, which is already on the books, Wyoming Statute 23-1-302(1)(ii), declaring the wolf a predator in 90 percent of the state.

This would be sort of nasty, underhanded politics, no doubt, but how unusual is that when dealing with the wolf issue? The green groups and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would be livid, to put it mildly, and they would immediately sue Wyoming and say really bad things about those cowboys in the press, but would Wyoming care? Plus, the ESA has a five-year probationary period, so the FWS could try to revoke Wyoming’s delisting or even try to “relist” the wolf in the entire region, but any such efforts would be pushing into a stiff political headwind and might not happen – and definitely wouldn’t happen rapidly.

Meanwhile, while all the politics played out and while the litigation inched through our court system at a snail’s pace, Wyoming would have had power over wolf management.

The end result? For years, Wyoming could have had its way with the wolf and probably would have killed most wolves in the predator zone, duh!

Compare that scenario with what those cowboys have now – no control and no chance of getting it any time soon.

It’s virtually guaranteed that a male and female will soon have a liaison down in Colorado and the cowboys there will face decades of federal wolf management and the greens pushing for wolf reintroduction in Rocky Mountain National Park to control the elk overpopulation will have their dream come true – all thanks to Wyoming.

All hypothetical, of course, but plausible, don’t you agree?

However you slice it, Wyoming has, intentionally or unintentionally, right or wrong, delayed delisting and played into the hands of green groups who would want to keep the Big Dog on the endangered species list.

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