Pat Tucker and Bruce Waide respond

  Dear HCN,

A complete review of the situation is the subject of a book, not an article, but in response to Mr. Macfarlane's more salient complaints:

1) There was no reliable documentation of wolves breeding in central Idaho, despite the efforts of trained, professional biologists to find them. If wolves had, as Mr. Macfarlane claims, reached "critical mass," where are they now? When breeding occurs, packs are formed and packs are easily documented. Judge Downes didn't conclude from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that breeding populations of wolves inhabited central Idaho. What he gained from reading the reports and what the Fish and Wildlife Service never denied, was that dispersers and/or lone wolves passed through or temporarily inhabited the area. Judge Downes then narrowly interpreted Section 10(j) of the ESA to mean that it could not be used if there was a naturally occurring "specimen" in the area or even if there might be one in the future.

2) The Endangered Species Act is a strong, far-sighted law, but like all laws it needs to be tempered with common sense. Because it was written to protect species with vastly different biological needs, too loose an interpretation can allow one species to spiral towards extinction. At the same time, rigid, narrow interpretations can lead to absurd results for another species. The spectacle of the spectacular wolf recovery story being shut down to satisfy a legally narrow interpretation is a case of the latter. Conservationists who claim that applying 10(j) to central Idaho subverts the integrity of the ESA belong in the same paranoid category as mining industrialists adamantly refusing the slightest alteration of their sacred 1872 Mining Law.

3) Mr. Macfarlane correctly states that ESA Section 7 provisions designed to protect habitat are dropped for species reintroduced under 10(j). However, wolf recovery has not been used to halt development or resource extraction in northwestern Montana, where Section 7 provisions are in place. In large part, this is because research has failed to demonstrate that logging and mining adversely affect wolves. Therefore, the wolf is not an appropriate tool for environmentalists to use to protect wilderness. We have loaded wolves with enough baggage through the ages. We should not further burden them by misrepresenting their habitat requirements and using them as poster animals to preserve wild lands. Instead, our country needs a land ethic and laws that protect the integrity of ecosystems.

The ESA is intended to ensure the recovery of endangered species. Because the 10(j) provision of the ESA worked, even as you read this there are real, not hypothetical, wolf pups emerging from dens in Yellowstone and Idaho. Wolf recovery is on a trajectory headed towards self-sustaining wolf populations within the next decade. Even the most optimistic projections examining the possibility of "natural" Idaho wolf recovery under "full ESA protection" did not come close to matching this remarkable achievement.

If this isn't success, what is? If the use of 10(j) isn't appropriate in this case, when is it? Mr. Macfarlane's concerns seem focused on fixing something that isn't broken. Let's concentrate on real problems, such as the need for a land ethic, and real enemies - the Farm Bureau, which is furthering its agenda of derailing wolf recovery by its hypocritical, cynical exploitation of ambiguities in the ESA. In the words of livestock representative George Bennett, "We want natural recovery. It's been working for 20 years. There still aren't any."

Pat Tucker and Bruce Weide,

Hamilton, Montana