Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Gray Wolf Lost A Popularity Contest Among Wildlife Managers"

Jun 27: According to documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)  lawsuit, the organization says, the federal government's plan to remove the gray wolf from the protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) [See WIMS 6/7/13] was "hammered out through political bargaining with affected states," contrary to requirements of the ESA that listing decisions must be governed by the best available science. PEER says the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS or Service) presided over a process in which "political and economic considerations were at the forefront."
    PEER indicates in a release that the 52 documents produced by Fish & Wildlife Service detail how the "National Wolf Strategy" was developed in a series of closed-door Federal-state meetings called "Structured Decision Making" or SDM beginning in August 2010. The meetings involved officials from every region of the Service and representatives from the game and fish agencies of 13 states.
    PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch who had been seeking the records since April 2012 said, "These documents confirm our worst suspicions that the fate of the wolf was decided at a political bazaar. The meeting notes certainly explain why no outside scientists were welcome. From what we can see, Structured Decision Making was structured primarily to deal out the lower-48 population of gray wolves. The Obama administration keeps preaching integrity of science and transparency but seems to practice neither on any matter of consequence. In simplest terms, these documents detail how the gray wolf lost a popularity contest among wildlife managers."
    In addition to the release, PEER released a number of documents including: View the SDM overview and flowchart; Look at the political matrix for assessing alternatives; See the "New Fantastic Alternative"; Read scientists' critique of de-listing plan; Examine state litigation threats; Scan background on Structured Decision Making for the gray wolf; and Revisit politics pervading Mexican wolf decisions.
    A release from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) indicates that the documents show that the Fish and Wildlife Service "constrained the possible geographic scope of wolf recovery based on perceptions of 'what can the public tolerate' and 'where should wolves exist' rather than where suitable habitat for wolves exists or what is scientifically necessary for recovery. The meetings left state agencies in a position to dictate the fate of gray wolves across most of the lower 48 states." Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at CBD said, "This process made a mockery of the spirit of the Endangered Species Act. These documents show that years ago the Fish and Wildlife Service effectively handed over the reins on wolf recovery to state fish and game agencies, many of which are openly hostile to wolves. In order to ensure this politically contrived outcome, the Fish and Wildlife Service has spent the past three years cherry-picking scientific research that justifies the predetermined outcome that wolves don't need protection anymore."
    CBD said, "In August 2010 officials from a select group of state fish and game agencies were invited to a week-long workshop at the Fish and Wildlife training center in West Virginia to effectively decide the future of gray wolf recovery in the United States. The decisions made at the meeting were largely adopted in the agency's June 2013 proposal to end federal protections for gray wolves across most of the lower 48."
    Hartl said, "The Fish and Wildlife Service's actions demonstrate a near total lack of transparency and scientific integrity," said Hartl. "If the Service had followed this same logic 20 years ago, there would be no wolves in Yellowstone National Park today -- and no wolves roaming across the northern Rocky Mountains. The Service needs to go back to the drawing board and let the scientific facts guide how to recover wolves across the millions of acres of suitable wolf habitat remaining in the western United States and the Northeast."
    A number of scientists sent a joint letter to Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on May 21, in advance of the proposal and said, "As scientists with expertise in carnivore taxonomy and conservation biology, we are writing to express serious concerns with a recent draft rule leaked to the press that proposes to remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 States, excluding the range of the Mexican gray wolf. Collectively, we represent many of the scientists responsible for the research referenced in the draft rule. Based on a careful review of the rule, we do not believe that the rule reflects the conclusions of our work or the best available science concerning the recovery of wolves, or is in accordance with the fundamental purpose of the Endangered Species Act to conserve endangered species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.
    "The Service's draft rule proposes to: 1) 'remove the gray wolf from the List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife'; 2) 'maintain endangered status for the Mexican wolf by listing it as a subspecies (Canis lupus baileyi)'; 3) 'recognize a new species of wolf known as Canis lycaon [that] occurs in southeastern Canada and historically occurred in the northeastern United States and portions of the upper Midwest (eastern and western Great Lakes regions)'; and 4) deny protection to wolves in the Pacific Northwest because they do not qualify as a distinct population segment for lack of discreteness from wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. We find these proposals problematic both in terms of their scientific support and their consistency with the intent of the statute. . ."
    On June 7, the Service proposed to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from the list of threatened and endangered species. According to a release, the proposal comes after a comprehensive review confirmed its successful recovery following management actions undertaken by Federal, state and local partners following the wolf's listing under the Endangered Species Act over three decades ago. FWS said, "The proposed rule is based on the best science available and incorporates new information about the gray wolf's current and historical distribution in the contiguous United States and Mexico." FWS Director Dan Ashe said, "From the moment a species requires the protection of the Endangered Species Act, our goal is to work with our partners to address the threats it faces and ensure its recovery. An exhaustive review of the latest scientific and taxonomic information shows that we have accomplished that goal with the gray wolf, allowing us to focus our work under the ESA on recovery of the Mexican wolf subspecies in the Southwest." On June 13, FWS published its proposed rule for the gray wolves in the Federal Register and the proposal is now under a 90-day comment period extending until September 11, 2013.
    Access a release from PEER and link to the documents including the letter from scientists (click here). Access a release from CBD and link to related information (click here). Access the FR notice (click here). Access a release from FWS with links to more information on gray and Mexican wolves, supporting comments, including the proposed rules and commenting procedures (click here). [#Wildlife]
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