Reposted from :
International Wolf Center http://www.wolf.org/
May 9. 2014
GRAY WOLF: ENDANGERED-LIST DECISION LOOMS AS LAWMAKERS DEBATE
A decision from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether to take the gray wolf off the federal endangered species list is due by the end of the year. The agency is sorting more than 1.5 million public comments. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/2008)
Special to The Oregonian
By Helen Fessenden
on May 12, 2014 at 8:00 AM, updated May 12, 2014 at 8:10 AM
As the federal government sifts more than 1.5 million public comments on whether gray wolves should come off the endangered species list, lawmakers from the West continue to debate science and state control.
Oregon's Rep. Peter DeFazio says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials did not review the best science before proposing in June 2013 to delist the wolf. But others are pushing for states to continue to have more flexibility to manage their wolf population even if the animal continues to stay listed after the government's review.
A decision on the listing is expected by year's end. In the meantime, the issue has pitted ranchers, who say wolves pose a growing threat to livestock, and environmentalists, who say livestock can be protected without killing wolves and that rebounding populations are a key to restoring the ecological balance in places such as Yellowstone National Park.
The debate has raged even in Oregon, which has a relatively small wolf population. The state has 46 wolves, mostly in eastern Oregon, according to federal and state data released in early April.
Wolf populations have remained stable in most states, with a combined 1,691 in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming at the end of 2013, according to the April data.
Under a spending bill passed by Congress in 2011, those states were allowed to delist the wolf under certain conditions, provided that their numbers wouldn't drop dramatically. That's been the case in Oregon, where the wolf is delisted under federal law in the eastern part of the state.
But in Idaho, which has taken a more aggressive approach than most states, the population fell last year by 63 wolves, to around 659. In March, Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, a Republican, signed a bill to spend $400,000 in state money to create a wolf-control board
If the Fish and Wildlife Service reverses its position from 2013 and decides that the wolf should stay listed after all, Congress could let the decision stand. But to let states continue to delist wolves under some conditions – say to let ranchers eradicate wolves as long as the state's population stays above a set minimum -- Congress would have to write new legislation.
States also maintain their own endangered species lists. So, in theory, a state could keep a species listed even if the federal government lifted protections. But it would then have to use its own resources to protect the animals.
"If the rule later this year keeps the wolf on the endangered species list, I see Congress taking a role like it did before, passing a bill to give states more control," said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who would most likely play a role in writing such legislation. "So far, what Idaho has done has worked well there."
DeFazio, a Democrat, disagrees.
"That's not making a decision based on best available science, that's making a decision on politics," he said in an email. "Idaho has what it wanted, the ability to manage or eradicate their own gray wolf population. And that's what they have been doing since 2011. They've already reduced their wolf population dramatically, and a new board they established this year could further reduce the population by 75% to just 150 wolves."
DeFazio and others sponsored a petition this winter opposing delisting that gathered more than 160,000 signatures. They say the government didn't use the best science in proposing delisting. An independent review by the University of California at Santa Cruz, commissioned by the Fish and Wildlife Service, concluded in March that the agency relied too heavily on a paper that excluded prominent researchers.
"If you're deciding whether a species is endangered, to conduct a review with bad science is a violation of administrative procedures," DeFazio said.
Maricela Constantino, the Fish and Wildlife biologist now tasked with reviewing the flood of comments that poured in by the March 27 deadline, said they may lead to new data and research the agency missed. She's using a sophisticated data-mining program, Discover Text.
Fish and Wildlife's Don Morgan, who's overseeing the review, said that's the ultimate goal: to unearth new data, not tally support or opposition.
"We got a lot of form letters, which can be very simple," he said. "What we're really looking for is information that can let us know whether we made a correct or incorrect assessment. This is not an up or down vote."
-- Helen Fessenden