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Gray wolf delisting mired in politics

| April 13, 2022 12:00 AM

Idaho and Montana’s successful recovery of the gray wolf was a significant achievement in species conservation. In less than 10 years, not only were biological recovery targets for gray wolves met, they were exceeded. Unfortunately, delisting of the wolf has been mired in politics rather than informed by science.

Last month, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland authored an editorial, devoid of facts but flushed with alarmist rhetoric, perpetuating the false narrative that Idaho and Montana’s wildlife management policies are driving gray wolves to extinction. What’s more, the secretary disregarded both the spirit and procedure of the Endangered Species Act by explicitly threatening emergency listing. The secretary’s editorial demands a response.

Gray wolves were brought to the Northern Rockies in 1995, and by the mid-2000s, their rapid population growth had far outpaced expectations. With the gray wolf fully recovered, Idaho and Montana resumed state wildlife management authority in 2011. However, three scenarios are written into the states’ post-recovery plans outlining the conditions that could lead to a species status review:

One: If wolf populations in the Northern Rockies Management Unit fall below 100 wolves during one year. Both states far surpassed this number with an estimated 1,177 wolves in Montana and 1,543 in Idaho last year.

Two: If wolf populations in either state fall below 150 wolves for three consecutive years in a row. Gray wolf populations have consistently remained above 1,000 wolves for over 10 consecutive years in Montana. Similarly, Idaho’s wolf populations have significantly exceeded the target number for more than 20 years, remaining above 1,500 in the last three consecutive years.

Three: If a state law or management objective makes changes that significantly increases the threat to the wolf population. Idaho expanded hunting licenses in 2021, not to endanger wolf populations but to reduce their growing threat to the ecosystem. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2009 delisting rule warned that a Northern Rockies population above 1,500 wolves, which Idaho alone currently exceeds, would result in eventual habitat degradation.

Like Idaho, Montana adopted new hunting regulations this year. This plan was adjustable — allowing the Commission to respond to changing conditions mid-season — and maintained science-based quotas, which even if were fully met, assured wolf populations were maintained at a level nearly five times the recovery threshold. Montana’s wolf season concluded last week and the total harvest was on par with past seasons and actually less than the previous four years.

The secretary wrote that “we must find solutions that allow wolves to flourish.” We agree, and are proud that Idaho and Montana succeeded in doing just that. If the gray wolf doesn’t meet the criteria for a status review, it certainly does not meet the criteria for an emergency listing. Those pushing for such action are relying on emotional appeals, red-herrings, and fear-tactics – not science or the law.

If the secretary is serious about following the science and the law and recognizing “decades of hard work by states,” the secretary must promote, rather than disparage, state management authority. She must acknowledge Idaho and Montana have demonstrated a pertinent ability to sustain a healthy wolf population for over a decade. This is the true mark of success for species recovery, and we cannot afford for Secretary Haaland to undermine this legacy for political, partisan gain.

U.S. Sens. Steve Daines, R-Montana, and Jim Risch, R-Idaho.

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