Adverse Decision for Wolves Averted in the Senate

As the 111th Congress drew to a close, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) sought unanimous consent on a bill that would have delisted the gray wolf as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Only months earlier, a federal court had overturned a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to delist wolves in Montana and Idaho, finding that the attempt to treat these wolves as a separate population was "a political solution that does not comply with the ESA."

Since that ruling, which stopped wolf hunting in those two states, a handful of elected officials have sought to legislatively remove wolves from the protections afforded by the ESA and to return wolf management to state wildlife agencies. In this latest attempt, Crapo and his colleague, Sen. James Risch (R-ID), claimed wolves were decimating big game herds and livestock in Idaho. However, the state’s own Department of Fish and Game data reveal that, in 26 of Idaho’s 29 elk management zones, wolves are not the primary mortality threat to elk; and that mule deer numbers in the state are in decline due to habitat loss and degradation, not wolves. Further, for both sheep and cattle, the number of deaths attributable to wolves in Idaho is well under 5 percent of total losses from all factors.

Fortunately, this congressional end-run around the ESA was thwarted by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), who warned it would undermine "one of the most important laws in our country, the Endangered Species Act" and that "good science," not politics should be the basis for ESA decisions. Unfortunately, more attempts to weaken the ESA can be expected from the 112th Congress.