Everybody who even remotely follows the wolf issue knows how bad it is, politically. About the only way it could get worse would be a wolf breaking into an urban backyard and biting a child.
Federal District Judge Donald Molloy’s August 5 ruling putting the Big Dog back on the endangered species list and stopping hunts in Idaho and Montana was that proverbial last straw for a lot of people, even a lot of fence sitters who actually like wolves and supported the reintroduction.
I’ve written frequently (here and here) urging stakeholders to sit down, outside of a courthouse, and work out a compromise, but in all these years, at least as far as I know, there has never been even one meeting. Now, I have to think the pro-wolfers blew their chance to cut the best deal they could’ve gotten. I bet they could’ve locked in a much higher minimum population level and won other concessions from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the state wildlife agencies, at least Idaho and Montana, but they didn’t even try. Instead, they kept going to the courts, and now, they’ll be lucky to salvage the integrity of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
So, we move onto the next chapter in the neverending story. The plaintiffs might think that’s the next round in the courthouse brawl, but not the defendants. They’re going to Congress.
As we languish in this ridiculous ego-centric impasse where neither side wants to show a sign of weakness by making the first move, anger has swollen to a point where some agencies and sporting groups refuse to even say the words, “settle” or “settlement”–let alone do it–because they fear it might imply they gave into the “defenders of wildlife.” (See the end of the article for some irony on that point.) Even if the plaintiffs had a sudden change of heart and made some “first move” calls, they’d likely get a quick “screw you; we’re going to Congress” response.
Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) has already drafted a bill to override Molloy’s ruling by prohibiting the wolf from being listed under the ESA and giving “exclusive” management to the states of Idaho and Montana.
“After hearing from Montanans at my listening sessions around the state,” Rehberg wrote on his website, “I’ve taken a first step by having a draft bill drawn up, but before I introduce it, it’s important to hear what Montanans think.” (Click here to read Rehberg’s draft bill.)
Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, both Republicans, have also drafted a bill to override Molloy’s ruling, but it hasn’t been posted online yet.
“This legislation will delist wolves in Idaho and permit the State to manage the species effectively and humanely, as we were doing before Judge Molloy’s most recent decision to relist wolves,” Crapo wrote on his website.
“Idaho has met and greatly exceeded every recovery goal imposed on the state by the federal government for the gray wolf and has shown that we Idahoans can properly manage the wolf just like any other species,” Risch added
The Crapo-Risch bill requires the Department of the Interior to de-list wolves in Idaho and Montana (and amazingly, also in Oregon, Washington and Utah) and leaves Wyoming out there in the cold, by itself, going it alone, just like the Cowboy State likes it.
The clause de-listing in beginning wolf populations in Oregon, Washington and Utah should give the greens a wake-up call. Those populations are small, struggling and obviously still endangered, but if the Idaho Senators have their way, they’ll lose all federal protection.
And moving a little slower, but with the same motivation, Montana’s Senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Democrats, are also working on a “legislative solution,” as are the delegations in Texas and other western states.
To me, all this says something is likely to happen; it isn’t just the normal, knee-jerk reaction, congressional saber rattling you often hear. Forget science. It had its chance. Now, it’s all politics, and nobody is even trying to pretend otherwise. I believe the Rehberg or Crapo-Risch bills, if passed, would be the first time Congress has ever intervened to make a species-specific decision the FWS, the agency charged with administering the ESA, is supposed to make.
I can assure you that the plaintiffs don’t want to see this happen, but if they’d like to blame somebody for it, they should look in the mirror. They pushed too long, too hard.
Anti-environmental, pro-development groups have been chomping at the bit for decades to “fix” or “enhance” the ESA. Now, wolf advocates may have given them their chance and possibly jeopardized the integrity of what’s widely considered the most powerful environmental law ever. When it gets opened up for amendment, for any reason, back at our big sausage factory in Washington, D.C., anything can happen–and it’s unlikely to be a good thing. And once the precedent is set, de-listing advocates will routinely go back to Congress for resolution instead of fighting long, losing court battles.
The plaintiffs and other pro-wolf groups, heavy on the east and left coasts, believe they have the power to prevent any opening of the ESA. Well, regrettably, we’ll soon see if their confidence is well founded.
My reading of the tea leaves tells me we have so much anger and frustration pushing for a congressional “solution” to the wolf issue that it could easily and quickly happen–something like a midnight rider tacked onto a big must-pass bill without debate or hearings (it happens all the time, folks) in the upcoming lame-duck session. And presto, it’s over; the wolf is de-listed.
That might be a the right ending for the neverending story, but it sure seems like the wrong way to write the last chapter.
Plaintiffs: There has been lots of news coverage about EarthJustice suing “on behalf of 13 conservation groups,” but not much on who they are. So, here’s the list: Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oregon Wild, Sierra Club, The Humane Society of the United States, Western Watersheds Project, and Wildlands Network
Irony: Not many people remember it, but the Sierra Club, a plaintiff, and the National Audubon Society, not a plaintiff, opposed wolf reintroduction and actually sued, unsuccessfully, to stop it. Then, as soon as agencies declared wolf recovery a success and started pushing for de-listing, the Sierra Club joined the other plaintiffs and has been fighting in the courts for years to stop it. Go figure.
More Irony, Defending Defenders: Some anti-wolfers generally and incorrectly refer to plaintiffs as the “defenders of wildlife,” and it isn’t a compliment. In fact, “defenders of wildlife ” has become sort of a moniker for radical eastern environmental groups. Yes, Defenders of Wildlife was the lead conservation group responsible for bringing the wolf back to the northern Rockies and worked hand-in-hand with the FWS and state wildlife agencies to cooperatively make it happen, but ironically, then and now, I view Defenders of Wildlife as among the most reasonable and moderate in the Plaintiff Pack.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This column has been corrected. An earlier version incorrectly listed the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club as plaintiffs in a suit against wolf reintroduction.