Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar Sets Gray Wolves Up for Slaughter

On May 4, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar took a big step backwards in the history of wildlife conservation in America. With the stroke of a pen, he moved an iconic native species, the gray wolf, from under the protections of the Endangered Species Act, and placed them squarely in the crosshairs of wolf opponents across the Northern Rockies.

Secretary Salazar's decision to allow the Bush administration's last-minute delisting rule for wolves in the Northern Rockies to take effect risks a tremendous loss for the 30-year legacy of recovering wild wolves in the region.

The rule, effective as of May 4th, allows the majority of the region's estimated 1,600 wolves to be killed, jeopardizing the future of wolves in the Northern Rockies. The rule takes effect even as new pups are being born to wolf packs throughout the region, making them easy targets for those who would wish them harm.  

All the reasons why this delisting plan was a bad idea when the Bush administration proposed it in January 2009 still stand today. The rule allows all but 300 of the 1,300 wolves in Idaho and Montana to be killed. It also eliminates protections for wolves in northern Utah and eastern portions of Washington and Oregon.  

Idaho, which hosts the area's largest wolf population, has already publically announced plans to kill more than half of its wolf population within the year after federal protections are lifted.  

It is beyond comprehension and without precedent that we find ourselves in this situation; with a wildlife population that has only just been declared "recovered" now facing a possible loss of over half of their numbers. No one would have dreamed of "managing" the bald eagle so aggressively as soon as it came off the Endangered Species Act, yet for purely political reasons, wolves in the Northern Rockies face the possibility of the eradication of the majority of their population soon after losing federal protections.  

Secretary Salazar should not have allowed this rule to take effect without engaging in a clear and transparent public consultation process. Instead, he made the surprise decision to move forward without considering current science and without ensuring that appropriate state wolf management plans are in place to ensure a sustainable wolf population after delisting. In fact, Secretary Salazar rejected offers from groups in the region and around the country to work with him to find the right way to delist wolves in the region. (Defenders of Wildlife immediately filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act in order to learn who the Secretary talked to about the issue and what scientific review he undertook - and we are still waiting for an answer.)  

Delisting under these conditions casts aside the decades of work, expense and stakeholder participation that went towards building a viable wolf population in the region. Hundreds of scientists have formally spoken out against the delisting rule, noting that the rule ignores contemporary scientific research on what constitutes a recovered wolf population, and allows wolf populations to be reduced to the point where they could not achieve the natural genetic connectivity deemed by scientists to be essential to the species' long-term survival in the region.  

Most recently, scientists with the Society for Conservation Biology wrote a letter to Secretary Salazar urging him to reconsider publishing the rule based on unresolved scientific issues regarding the genetic health and connectivity of the regional wolf population.  

Apparently, none of this was considered by Secretary Salazar. His rushed decision was especially surprising given President Obama's statements emphasizing the need to restore scientific integrity in the administration of the Endangered Species Act. Just three days before Salazar's announcement that he would delist the Northern Rockies wolf, President Obama pledged in a memorandum to "restore the scientific process to its rightful place at the heart of the Endangered Species Act."  

This pledge was not upheld by the administration in going forward with delisting the Northern Rockies wolf, a process which should have included in-depth consultation and a full scientific review.  

This delisting puts the regional wolf population at enormous risk. And it's a potential tragedy that could have easily been avoided. As a member of the US-Canadian wolf reintroduction team I had hoped to celebrate the day when wolves no longer needed federal protections. Instead, wolves once again face an uncertain future under this bad plan. Defenders of Wildlife is now forced to continue fighting for the wolf in the courts, and will sue Secretary Salazar as soon as possible to overturn this misguided and unwarranted decision.  

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