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Wolf wars: Can man and predator coexist in the West?

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The delisting process has been no less contentious. Normally, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, an arm of the Interior Department, removes animals from the ESL based on scientific criteria. But even before Salazar acted in May, two Western US senators, Jon Tester (D) of Montana and Mike Simpson (R) of Idaho, took the unprecedented step of drafting legislation to force the federal government to give up management of the wolves in their states. They cited frustration with environmentalists' attempts to delay the process. The measure passed in March, embedded in the federal budget agreement signed by President Obama.

Almost immediately, Montana and Idaho started making plans for a sport hunt this fall aimed at harvesting hundreds of wolves. Idaho also started shooting wolves from helicopters to kill animals that biologists say are harming elk herds.

Environmentalists, as a result, have gone back to court again, arguing that the legislative removal of wolves from federal protection is unconstitutional. They worry that it will lead to politicians, instead of wildlife professionals, making decisions on when and how to remove other animals from federal protection.

"There will be future attacks on the protections that the Endangered Species Act provides to species that are vulnerable," says Tom France, regional director of the National Wildlife Federation in Missoula, Mont. "Legislators will look for any vehicle to provide a political solution and will cite the wolf case as an example to buttress their position."

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