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The political wrangling over wolves since the latest relisting in August is now in full force. It’s unfortunate that we’ve arrived at a place where the only solution that most Montanans see regarding wolves is political in nature. Looking back over 100 years of wildlife conservation in the state of Montana, political solutions have rarely helped wildlife. In the past, hunter-conservationists struggled mightily to remove political influence from wildlife management, and we were largely successful. The management scenario that was developed, known as the North American Fish and Wildlife Conservation Model, has resulted in the largest rebound in wildlife populations around the globe. This is the model that would be applied to wolves if we could get to a sustainable delisting, and get beyond the pettifogging and the political grandstanding. But for now, we’re at a stalemate. This stalemate has led to congressional efforts to delist wolves:

Why the Baucus/Tester Wolf Delisting Bill is the Better Choice

The political wrangling over wolves since the latest relisting in August is now in full force. It’s unfortunate that we’ve arrived at a place where the only solution that most Montanans see regarding wolves is political in nature.

Looking back over 100 years of wildlife conservation in the state of Montana, political solutions have rarely helped wildlife. In the past, hunter-conservationists struggled mightily to remove political influence from wildlife management, and we were largely successful. The management scenario that was developed, known as the North American Fish and Wildlife Conservation Model, has resulted in the largest rebound in wildlife populations around the globe. This is the model that would be applied to wolves if we could get to a sustainable delisting, and get beyond the pettifogging and the political grandstanding. But for now, we’re at a stalemate. This stalemate has led to congressional efforts to delist wolves:

There are three schools of thought on how best to proceed:

1. Exempt wolves from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by amending the act to permanently remove wolves from ever falling under the ESA’s jurisdiction (H.R. 6028).

2. Remove Montana and Idaho wolf populations from the Endangered Species list while following the intent of the ESA by requiring that Montana and Idaho have U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) approve plans and require the five-year monitoring period required in the ESA (S. 3864).

3. Do nothing and keep litigating this issue until we’re all so sick and tired of it, and each other, that we throw up our hands and walk away from the table and let the wolves eat everything, including the “wolf warriors” on both sides.

I’m about ready to embrace Option 3.

I’ve been working on the wolf issue for eight years, both in Montana and Wyoming. I’ve heard all of the horror stories, ranging from the anti-wolf crowd’s stories about how “the foals scream when wolves come through the corrals” to the fears of ingesting wolf poop and getting a tapeworm.

I’ve been subjected to cocktail conversations where people have actually opined about whether anybody has bothered to ask the wolves how they feel about being relocated. I’ve had women in multi-colored frocks pray for my soul while declaring me an “enemy of the wolf.”

It’s gotten just plain ridiculous.

One proponent of amending the ESA has stated that this is the beginning of attempts to gut the ESA. Good luck with that; seriously. We can always use a good modern day rendition of Don Quixote in the wildlife world, like the frivolous petition to get USFWS to reintroduce wolves outside of Omaha and Topeka.

These attempts show just how far toward the fringe the two opposing sides have traveled. A few hunting groups, pushing for amending the ESA, are willing to sacrifice the good standing and reputation of hunters in a largely non-hunting nation in order to limit wolf numbers to the absolute bare minimum. I believe they have no eye toward biological sustainability and diversity. They want to strip one animal of their protections “permanently” for conveniences sake. This makes hunters look selfish and petty.

Meanwhile, the environmental crowd doesn’t seem to think that true wolf recovery is anything less than complete saturation of wolves in the continental U.S. They disregard the impacts to cattle producers and the prevailing sentiment that enough is enough. This makes wolf lovers look selfish and petty, and it provides fertile ground for those who truly would love to gut the ESA.

That’s why I got excited when I saw that Montana’s two Senators actually introduced a bill that would get us beyond all the blathering and idiocy–and allow us to start managing wolves like we manage elk, deer and most species of wildlife. The bill itself is really quite simple, and quite brilliant. It gives the USFWS the authority to delist wolves based on political boundaries. It resolves what Judge Molloy (whom I think is a damned good judge) said was the problem. Furthermore, the bill doesn’t weaken the ESA like other bills do through amending the act to fully eliminate any protection for wolves.

Put plainly, this effort by Baucus and Tester has the best chance of passage out of any bill dealing with wolves. It’s politically savvy; it’s sensitive to the desires of most Americans–to have wolves on the landscape–and it allows the two states who have managed this issue to get their homework finished and submitted in order to pass on to the next grade. It’s a reasonable solution to this problem at this point-in-time.

God bless Max and Jon. They hit it out of the park.

Politically, I don’t see how amending the ESA to permanently exclude wolves would ever get the broad-based support needed to pass in Congress. The attempt to attach the Texas bill on to the Continuing Resolution before the fall recess would have required a unanimous vote in the Senate to move on. Yeah, I can see Al Franken or Barbara Boxer going for that.

It also strikes me as odd that supporters of the Texas bill are ardent opponents to the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act based on the fact that non-western lawmakers are telling Western states what to do with their lands. The established courtesy in Congress is to let states affected by specific issues deal with those issues themselves. Why abandon that long held and appropriate belief when trying to delist wolves?

The approach taken by Baucus and Tester can garner broad-based support. Support from liberals and conservatives. It’s statesmanship at its finest. It’s a calculated, intelligent, and thoughtful approach to settling this issue, at least in two states that have met all of the delisting criteria. Sure, many will oppose the measure, especially those who hold the ESA sacrosanct, but the truth is, because of unbending ideology and dogma, we’re now in an unconstructive stalemate. So the caterwauling should be focused in the mirror of those who stand on the platform in western towns rallying folks against wolves, and those who hold fundraisers in skyscrapers to raise millions of dollars to “save the wolf.”

Tying delisting to USFWS-approved plans follows the intent of the ESA. Perhaps other states that have met delisting criteria, and have approved plans, could get on board with this effort, and also seek to delist wolves. I know I wouldn’t be too upset over that. Especially if it silences those on the fringe who constantly fill my inbox with recipes on how to poison wolves, or how wolves are really spirited animals who love to romp and play and happily coexist in wolf towns, with wolf families, driving their wolf cars to their wolf jobs.

Ben Lamb is a wildlife conservationist living in Helena, Montana.

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