Wolves deserve protection

  Dear HCN,

Pat Tucker and Bruce Weide's article on wolves contains many errors (HCN, 4/13/98). Wolves were not "occasional loners' in central Idaho's wilds, prior to the recent release, as their article asserts. There is ample evidence that wolves did inhabit the Greater Salmon-Selway Ecosystem, dating back to the first confirmed sightings from the late 1970s. For example, the all-volunteer Gray Wolf Committee from Idaho, the one litigant represented by Earthjustice their article failed to mention, spent months in the field in the early "90s documenting wolf signs in many locations across the Greater Salmon-Selway Ecosystem. The Earthjustice lawsuit was successful because it used data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's files showing wolves were present in central Idaho. Clearly, the 10(j) exception to the act was illegally applied in the case of central Idaho.

What makes this even more remarkable is the simple fact there were and are obvious bureaucratic disincentives for the FWS to document naturally occurring wolves in Idaho. It is logical to assume that had the FWS lived up to its duty under the Endangered Species Act, wolf recovery in central Idaho would have naturally been well on its way by the time the release took place. Even given the dereliction of duty by the FWS, naturally occurring wolves were reaching critical mass, if they had not already done so, by the mid-1990s.

It is precisely because the evidence was so strong that wolves were in central Idaho and were recovering naturally, that the Earthjustice lawsuit was restricted to Idaho and did not include Yellowstone, even though a naturally occurring wolf was killed south of the park just prior to reintroduction. It is either dishonest or uninformed for Weide and Tucker to imply that Earthjustice based its case on "occasional" wolves.

Wolves have done well in the wilds of central Idaho because the habitat is still remote enough to limit contact with humans. But that habitat is going fast. The roadless Cove/Mallard region, an area with numerous wolf reports prior to the artificial release, has been partially developed and is slated to be ripped by 145 miles of roads and 200 cuts. Section 10(j) fails to offer protection of wolf habitat rendering any recent gains under the threat of future habitat loss.

Section 10(j) of the ESA has not lessened the shoot, shovel and shut up mentality. "Nonessential" wolves have been illegally killed as have ones with full protection under the ESA. Wolves or any other species are not benefited when environmentalists bow to blackmail of this sort. Furthermore, section 10(j) did not prevent the Farm Bureau from filing its lawsuit. So much for the politically greased compromise alternative that wolf opponents accepted.

It is also inaccurate to portray the ESA as being inflexible. Wolves are all too routinely killed for predation under the more protective measures of the ESA.

The real issue behind the debate within the environmental community over the wolf reintroduction needs to be examined. The underlying message of the article is the ESA is either too stringent or it is politically untenable. Rather than couching that belief in sophistry - wolves were not in Idaho, or there were too few to be a viable population, or they were only transient (allegations unsupported by the scientific facts) - honesty is needed. People like Pat and Bruce need to be forthright in explaining why they believe the ESA should be weakened.

An ESA that is not used is like no ESA at all. The FWS fails to follow the Act in many instances. That doesn't mean environmentalists should give up and call for exceptions to the ESA. Pressuring the agency through lawsuits or other means to enforce the law should be pursued.

Finally, wolves will remain in Yellowstone. The public won't allow them to be removed. The dream of wolf recovery in Maine, the Adirondacks or elsewhere is alive and will remain so because citizens stand up for wildlife and wildlands. Capitulation, not action, kills dreams.

Gary Macfarlane

Moscow, Idaho