Unless you’re a Western cattle rancher or ardent conservationist, you probably haven’t been following the fight over delisting the wolf. I’m one of those two things, so I’ve been receiving emails about the issue on an almost daily basis, and will happily catch you up with some good news and some bad news.
The good news: after being driven to extinction across the continental United States, wolves were reintroduced to the Rocky Mountains during the 1990s under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. They increased in number and helped restore some of semblance of a balanced ecosystem in Yellowstone National Park and across the Mountain West.
The bad news: Before the keystone predators could recolonize their historic range — the level of recovery mandated by the Act — two senators from Idaho and Montana (Tester and Simpson) managed to delist the wolf and return wolf management to the states.
Without even closely examining the issue from a scientific perspective — for instance, by noting the critical role played by wolves in maintaining healthy ecosystems — you can tell this was a horrible idea for three reasons:
One, Tester and Simpson only managed to get their proposal through Congress by attaching a rider to the 2011 federal budget. This method puts it in good company with other exemplars of good governance like this year’s Monsanto Protection Act, which conveniently granted the biotechnology giant a six-month period of immunity just before a farmer in Oregon announced he had discovered genetically-modified wheat illegally growing on his farm.
Two, you may recall from earlier in this post what happened last time wolves were not listed as an endangered species: we killed every. last. one. living in the United States, threw ecosystems out of whack, and had to undertake an expensive and still only partially-successful reintroduction program. I’m sure that if we remove that federal protection everything will go back to being perfectly fine.
Three, delisting devolved the responsibility of creating wolf management plans to the states. Here’s, for instance, what Montana came up with [click to embiggen if you have trouble reading it]:
That map reminds me a little too much of one the more memorable bits of Parks & Recreation: