Multi-Pronged Campaign Pushes Wolf Population Expansion
The campaign to increase federally protected wolf populations has ramped up in the last month, with wolf advocates pushing forth in a multi-pronged approach, including litigation, publication of a new plan in a scientific journal, and a petition seeking to pull the plug on funding for state wildlife management.
Last week a group of wolf advocacy organizations filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) for its failure to issue a decision on whether wolves in the Northern Rockies should be placed back under federal protection.
Citing changes in state laws in Montana and Idaho that provide for expansive wolf take, last year wolf advocates convinced FWS to conduct a 12-month status review of wolves in the Northern Rockies.
The lawsuit charges that FWS had a June 1 deadline to determine whether a federal listing for wolves in the region was warranted, but the agency did not issue its finding by the deadline. The groups ask the court to direct FWS to issue its finding by a court-imposed deadline.
The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, and Sierra Club.
With a federal court decision placing gray wolves across most of the nation back under federal protection earlier this year, wolf advocates have also petitioned FWS for an “emergency relisting” in the Rocky Mountain states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
The Biden administration’s desire to conserve at least 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030 is advanced by a “bold and science-based rewilding of publicly owned federal lands” through the creation of a network of “11 large reserves spanning the American West” where “rewilding” would take place, according to an opinion piece published by a group of activist scientists.
The first step in this Western Rewilding Network would be getting rid of livestock grazing on federal land in these reserves, followed by restoring fully federally protected gray wolf populations, and then reintroducing beaver populations. The plan proposes to close 29 percent of the livestock grazing allotments on federal lands in 11 western states.
The authors note: “Although our proposal may at first blush appear controversial or even quixotic, we believe that ultra ambitious action is required. We are in an unprecedented period of converging crises in the American West, including extended drought and water scarcity, extreme heat waves, massive fires triggered at least partly by climate change, and biodiversity loss with many threatened and endangered species. Furthermore, we note that the lands in the proposed network are already owned by the public and meat produced from all federal lands forage accounts for only approximately 2 percent of national meat production.”
The “Rewilding the American West” piece was published in the journal BioScience. Primary author William J. Ripple of Oregon State University was joined by 19 colleagues in publishing the plan. In addition to Oregon State University, other author affiliations include the Turner Endangered Species Fund, Michigan Technological University, University of Washington, University of Colorado–Boulder, The Ohio State University, Virginia Tech, University of Victoria, and various organizations.
The authors relied in part on data provided by the activist organization Center for Biological Diversity, with that organization saying in a press release that it was “deeply inspired” by the plan. Authors of the paper include anti-grazing advocate George Wuerthner and others once affiliated with the radical activist group Earth First! The paper’s acknowledgements identify support from other known anti-grazing activists and organizations.
Earlier this month, the Center For Biological Diversity submitted a petition to FWS to halt distribution of Pittman-Robertson funds to the states of Idaho and Montana until those states change their wolf-hunting laws.
The Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act provides for an excise tax on the sale of firearms, archery equipment and ammunition. Proceeds from the 11% tax are distributed to state wildlife management agencies for managing and restoring wild animal populations, conducting scientific research, restoring and acquiring habitat, supporting hunter safety education and maintaining public gun ranges.
Since its inception, the act has generated more than $15 billion for state wildlife management programs. The money is allocated to the states based on a formula that considers the land size of the state in proportion to the rest of the country, and the number of hunting licenses sold in proportion to the other states. States are required to match 25 percent to receive their annual allocation.
But according to the petition, Idaho and Montana should be disqualified from receiving such conservation funds “because they have passed legislation creating anti-predator wildlife management programs aimed at drastically reducing their ecologically important wolf populations,” according to the petition, an action they say clashes with the purpose and conservation mandate of the federal act.
The petition notes: “By withholding funding from Idaho and Montana, (the U.S. Department of Interior) and FWS can fulfill the Pittman-Robertson Act’s purpose and show other states that such federal financial support is contingent on sound wildlife management. When states pass legislation with the sole purpose of killing ecologically important wildlife like wolves, they should not be rewarded with federal aid intended for states that truly conserve wildlife.”
The amount of annual revenue from the Pittman-Robertson fund that goes to the states is significant. Idaho received $72.6 million in the five years from 2015 to 2019, while Montana received $99.2 million during the same period.
Among the groups supporting the petition were Western Watersheds Project, Wild Earth Guardians, Humane Society of the United States, and two Wyoming-based groups: Wyoming Untrapped and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates.
Author Cat Urbigkit lives with her family on a working sheep and cattle outfit in western Wyoming’s Sublette County.
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