Whither the ESA?
Thank you to HCN and Hal Herring for the outstanding article on wolves (HCN, 5/30/11)!
I saw my first bald eagle in the wild in 1982, my first black-footed ferret in 1983, my first lynx in 1978, and my first wolf in 1980. Due to increased public awareness of the importance of these species and the Endangered Species Act, most of these species -- which during the first 24 years of my life were rarely or never seen in the wild -- have become more abundant.
For decades, I have supported a diverse, and often conflicted, group of charitable organizations, each of which promoted some issues I found important. I donated to groups like the Sierra Club, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Defenders of Wildlife. I considered it almost a personal victory when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone. With equivalent gusto, I supported the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Ducks Unlimited. I am a passionate backcountry hunter and an occasional fisherman.
At first, 2009 seemed a victory year, as wolves graduated to state regulation. That wolves recovered from extinction in the Lower 48 to become a state-regulated game species was a landmark for the ESA, and promised to disarm many of its critics. But the lawsuits to prevent the wolf from being delisted were disheartening. I felt duped. The groups I had given to blindly supported wolves no matter what; they did not support the ESA.
Congress has now done some damage control on the wolf issue, although this is clearly an imperfect solution. Wolves will continue to survive, roam and hunt the American West as an important part of healthy ecosystems. I am less optimistic about the prospects for the ESA's survival. Many environmental groups have eviscerated the law, and left it weak, vulnerable and ridiculed. What a shame.