Forty years of the Endangered Species Act has brought some notable successes, but those successes come with a cautionary tale.
Consider the gray wolf (Canis lupus), which was almost entirely extinguished in the United States by the early 1900s but which by 2011 was deemed recovered enough to be removed from the endangered species list in the northern Rocky Mountains and the western Great Lakes. Everyone acknowledged the gains that had been made, but many argued that the delisting came too soon.
Now, the Fish and Wildlife Service is taking things even further by proposing to remove endangered species protections for the gray wolf across most of the United States. However, both the process and the reasoning behind this proposal are flawed. (For more detail on both of these points, please see http://bit.ly/17wW8sF).
Instead of relying on scientific consensus, Fish and Wildlife relied on its own article published in its own journal, proclaimed the eastern wolf to be a different species than the gray wolf, and declared this to be “the best available scientific information.” Yet wolf classification is notoriously messy and controversial, complicated by widespread interbreeding among wolves and between wolves and coyotes. So, this is “best science” by fiat. Yet, by means of this fiat, Fish and Wildlife claims that protections for the gray wolf should be removed from the Eastern states.
Fish and Wildlife then argues that in the rest of the U.S., wolves that are not in one of the two “recovered” areas are not present in sufficient numbers to be deemed endangered (with the exception of the Mexican wolves subspecies). If that sounds nonsensical, it’s because it is. In the past, the Fish and Wildlife sought to restore endangered species across their historic ranges where feasible. Now, the agency is trying to reverse course and restore species only where there is currently a “distinct population segment,” which it has defined very narrowly, excluding, for example, Washington, Oregon and California.
Let’s celebrate the successes of the Endangered Species Act, but let’s do so while keeping a close watch on its implementation. Start by submitting a public comment to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on this flawed proposal.