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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wolf Delisting Not Based on “Best Available Science”

In every region of the country where federal protections for wolves have been lifted, the states have moved quickly to open sport hunting seasons. From the Northern Rockies to the Great Lakes, trophy hunters and trappers have killed more than 2,000 wolves, often by using cruel and indiscriminate steel-jawed leghold traps.  In Wisconsin, the states even allow dogs to chase down by packs of hounds, in what amounts to wolf-dog fighting.

Gray wolf pups
Photo by Radius Images/Alamy

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to delist wolves in the remainder of the lower 48 states (with the exception of about 75 wild Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico) would compound the problem and further put this keystone species in peril. Fortunately, on Friday, an independent, peer-review panel gave a thumbs-down to the proposal, unanimously concluding that it “does not currently represent the ‘best available science.’”

The agency was right to convene an independent panel of distinguished experts in wolf genetics, to debate the question of whether enough was known to take protected status away from wolves throughout most their range. More than one million people have submitted comments on the proposal, and the public has a strong interest in wolf management. The scientists disagreed with the government’s idea of a separate “eastern wolf” population in the Midwest and Northeast, which would have made wolf recovery in those states unnecessary; one of the conservation geneticists said the agency’s “driving goal seemed to be to identify the eastern wolf as a separate species, and to use that taxonomic revision to delist the gray wolf.”

Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee, has called on the Fish and Wildlife Service to withdraw the current delisting proposal in light of the peer-review panel’s findings. We hope the agency will also rescind its December 2011 rule delisting wolves in the Great Lakes region, which was based on the exact same dubious taxonomic claims criticized by the peer-review panel.

The executive branch should adhere to the best science on this issue, and not allow politics to drive the decision-making to transfer authority to states with dangerous and regressive wolf management policies. Instead of hoping for the best from a patchwork of state authorities subject to varying degrees of political power exerted by ranching and hunting interests, the federal government should be driving the nation toward full recovery of wolves.  The last thing wolves need is a further expansion of reckless and inhumane and ecologically detrimental hunting and trapping programs.

In Michigan, where wolves have already been delisted, the legislature made an end-run around the voters and circumvented a pending ballot measure to rush through the first hunting season in which 23 wolves were killed this winter. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected is gathering signatures to place a second measure on the ballot, to restore the rights of Michigan voters to have a say on wildlife policy, and has just a few weeks left before the signature deadline. If you live in Michigan, or live outside the state and would like to support that effort, please visit


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