Tag Archives: hunting

Baldwin, Johnson introduce bill to lift protections for wolves

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin are co-sponsors of legislation that would lift federal protections for gray wolves in the Midwest and Wyoming.

The other sponsors are John Barrasso and Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Similar legislation was introduced earlier this year in the U.S. House by Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy.

The aim of these lawmakers is to prevent courts from overruling a decision by the Interior Department to remove wolves in Wyoming, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan from the endangered species list.

In a news release, Johnson said, “I strongly agree with the feedback I’ve heard from Wisconsin stakeholders such as farmers, ranchers, loggers and sportsmen that future gray wolf listing decisions should come from wildlife experts, not from courtrooms.”

Baldwin said, “The Endangered Species Act plays a critical role in saving species from the brink of extinction, and when it does, we must acknowledge we have succeeded in restoring wildlife populations by delisting them. According to both federal and state wildlife biologists, this goal has been achieved with the gray wolf.”

She said she also heard “from farmers, sportsmen and wildlife experts, and they all agree. The wolf has recovered and we must return its management back to the state of Wisconsin, both for the safety and economic well-being of Wisconsinites and the balance of our environment.”

The  news release said the senators’ measure would “allow wolf management plans that are based on federal and state wildlife expertise to move forward without any legal ambiguity.”

Those management plans allow the trapping and hunting of wolves, including using dogs in the “sport” in Wisconsin. In Wyoming, the management plan allows unlimited shoot-on-sight killing of wolves across 85 percent of the state.

“A new Congress has resurfaced an old vendetta against imperiled wolves,” said Marjorie Mulhall, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice. “If this legislation is signed into law, wolves  in Wyoming will be subjected to unregulated killing across the vast majority of the state and even on the borders of Yellowstone National Park numerous legal loopholes will authorize widespread wolf killing.”

She continued, “We urge those who support the protection of wolves to call their senators and representatives and tell them to vote down this lethal legislation.”

On the Web

The House bill.

The Senate bill.

Wisconsin congressional delegation contacts.

Position cuts, mission shift lead to scaled-back DNR under Walker

Gov. Scott Walker promised to transform the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. And he has — cutting scientists, shrinking its budget and pushing the agency to be more receptive to industry.

And even more changes could be in store. Walker and Republican lawmakers, who hold their largest majorities in decades, are pondering whether to eliminate the agency and spread its duties across state government as well as charge people more to get into state parks and to hunt. It all adds up to a picture of a struggling agency no one recognizes any more, critics say.

“They want this chamber of commerce mentality,” said Scott Hassett, who served as DNR secretary under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. “That’s a different image than protector of natural resources. It’s sad.”

Agency officials and the Walker administration counter that the DNR is doing fine, carrying out its mission to protect the environment and enhance resources while becoming more customer-friendly.

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the DNR has become “more efficient, effective, transparent, and accountable” since Walker took office.

Republicans have long criticized the DNR, saying its pollution and hunting regulations are too strict, making it difficult for businesses to expand and draining the fun from outdoor sports.

Walker’s three state budgets cut $59 million from the DNR and eliminated nearly 200 positions, including half of its science researchers.

Last month DNR officials announced a major reorganization to deal with staffing cuts, including allowing large livestock farm operators to use consultants to help write permit applications so DNR staff won’t have to spend so much time on them.

The budgets also have scaled back the stewardship program and removed support for state parks, leaving them to survive on fees.

That’s created a $1.4 million deficit in the parks account, and Walker’s now mulling raising access fees.

In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited 75 deficiencies in how the DNR handles water regulation. Two environmental groups sued the DNR in 2014 to force the agency to adopt federal air pollution standards that were published a year earlier. The agency finally adopted them late last year.

This past June, state auditors found the agency wasn’t following its own policies for policing pollution from large livestock farms and wastewater treatment plants.

The audit also found a permit backlog for large farms, with DNR employees not having enough time to closely monitor the farms’ operations.

Last fall federal regulators visited the DNR to investigate claims that the agency is failing to enforce water pollution laws and regulations. The EPA hasn’t released any findings yet. And last month the agency removed language from its website that stated human activities are causing climate change, saying instead that the cause is debatable even though most scientists agree burning fossil fuels causes global warming.

What’s more, waning interest in hunting has resulted in fewer license purchases, creating a $4 million gap between revenue and spending authority for habitat management projects. The DNR has suggested Walker make up the difference by raising hunting and fishing license fees.

“So many changes and roadblocks have tied DNR’s hands so dramatically that they’re really not able to do the job the public expects them to be doing,” said Amber Meyer Smith, a lobbyist for environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, a plaintiff in the air lawsuit.

Scott Manley, a lobbyist for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and a key Republican constituency, said the DNR has become friendlier to businesses and is still doing its job despite the staffing cuts.

DNR spokesman James Dick cited a list of accomplishments. They included improved air quality — a DNR report released in September found air pollution has dropped statewide over the last decade — efforts to recruit hunters and the purchase of a conservation easement on 67,000 acres in northern Wisconsin, the largest conservation purchase in state history.

He also pointed out the agency is working to correct the EPA-identified deficiencies, walleye stocking has expanded and the agency has made strides in building a customer service image.

“There will always be critics who vocally disagree with what we’re doing but we prefer to note the accomplishments we’ve made over the last five years,” Dick said. “Since the start of this DNR administration, we have always believed it is possible to protect the environment, wildlife habitat and other natural resources without impeding the economic growth and development of our state.”

The agency still isn’t getting any love from GOP lawmakers. Rep. Adam Jarchow has resurrected a proposal to split the DNR into two new departments that would handle wildlife and pollution and spread the rest of the agency’s duties across three existing agencies. He has said the DNR doesn’t function in its current form.

Republicans have tried to break up the agency before but have failed in the face of opposition from outdoor clubs and environmental groups. Still, Walker has said the plan is worth pursuing. Five former DNR secretaries who served under both Democrats and Republicans, including Hassett and George Meyer, now executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, sent Walker a letter last week urging him to keep the agency intact.

Meyer, who served under Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, said in a telephone interview that Walker is building a “negative” environmental legacy.

“His idea of customer service,” Meyer said, “is really just a business customer service.”

Rep. Sean Duffy’s bill would strip protections for wolves

Legislation was introduced on Jan. 10 in Congress to strip federal protections from wolves in the Great Lakes region and Wyoming.

With language preventing any further judicial review, the bill would overrule two court decisions that found the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrongly removed Endangered Species Act protections for the wolf.

“The new Congress is the most extreme and anti-wolf our country has ever seen, and members wasted no time in attacking endangered wildlife,” said Collette Adkins, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This bill promises to undo hard-earned progress toward gray wolf recovery that has taken years to achieve. Without federal protection hundreds of wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan will once again suffer and die every year.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes region — Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota — in 2011 and in Wyoming in 2012.

Federal judges have overturned agency decisions for prematurely removing protections, failing to follow the requirements of the federal Endangered Species Act and ignoring the best available science.

Since the 2011 passage of a rider abolishing wolf protections in the northern Rocky Mountains, there have been dozens of legislative attacks on wolves in Congress, according to the CBD.  The bill introduced this week is the first introduced in the 115th Congress.

“Wolf recovery should be allowed to follow a course prescribed by science, not politics,” Adkins said. “This shameful meddling is harmful to wolves, harmful to science and harmful to our democratic processes.”

The bill has bipartisan sponsorship. It was introduced by U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Sean Duffy, R-Wis. and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.

Similar bills have passed the House but failed to clear the Senate and White House. But that was when the Senate and White House were in Democratic control.

CBD said the bill’s chances are considered  better in 2017,  when Republicans will control the House, Senate and White House.

For the record

Wayne Pacelle, president & CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, wrote about the issue on his blog for The HSUS. An excerpt:

With Republican majorities in both chambers, and with the Trump administration likely to actively support trophy hunting, this is a perilous moment for wolves.

In order to retain federal protections for them, we’ll need a massive outpouring of concern from citizens to their lawmakers. If they are delisted, we can expect more than 500 of the 5,000 wolves in the lower 48 to be shot, trapped, snared, and even chased by packs of hounds this coming fall and winter.

Please call your U.S. representative and U.S. senators and urge them to oppose any delisting bills or amendments or riders in Congress because they subvert judicial review and fly in the face of science that shows wolves are not adequately recovered to remove protections and turn management over to states that have pledged to immediately begin killing them again.

Your comments on the grizzly bear delisting proposal have enormously influenced decision makers, and now it’s time to speak up loudly and in overwhelming numbers for the wolves.

The entire blog is here.

 

Michigan governor signs wolf-hunting bill into law

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has signed a law that would authorize wolf-hunting if Congress or federal courts revisit the issue.

State lawmakers quickly passed the bill after the Michigan appeals court recently declared a 2014 law unconstitutional.

The law signed this past week defines wolves as a game species and authorizes the state Natural Resources Commission to designate game.

Money in the law related to Asian carp control could shield the measure from a statewide referendum.

Wolf hunting is not allowed in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota because of a 2014 federal court ruling.

A judge threw out an Obama administration decision to remove gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region from the endangered species list.

Michigan’s only hunt was in 2013, when 22 wolves were killed in the Upper Peninsula.

Michigan appeals court finds 2014 wolf hunt unconstitutional

A Michigan appeals court has found that the state’s 2014 wolf hunt was unconstitutional and the law allowing it should be struck down.

A three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals made the unanimous ruling in an opinion released this week, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The judges found that a provision of the law that allows for free military hunting, fishing and trapping licenses isn’t connected to the object of the law, which is providing for scientific management of wildlife habitats.

That violates the “title-object clause” in the Michigan Constitution that says the object of a law must be expressed in its title, the judges ruled.

The entire law must be struck down because it’s not clear if the measure would have been approved if that provision wasn’t included, the judges said.

The ruling is in favor of the group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected and overturns an earlier ruling from the Michigan Court of Claims.

The Michigan Legislature in 2014 adopted a voter initiative giving the Michigan Natural Resources Commission and the Legislature joint responsibility to name new game animals.

The initiative came after earlier failed efforts to add wolves to the definition of “game” in Michigan. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected challenged the law.

In the appeals court ruling, judges said the group viewed the law as “a Trojan Horse, within which the ability to hunt wolves was cleverly hidden.” The judges said though that their decision wasn’t based on policy but “on an analysis of the dictates of Michigan’s constitution.”

In December 2014, a federal judge threw out an Obama administration decision to remove gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region from the endangered species list — a decision that banned further wolf hunting and trapping in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Eastern gorillas critically endangered, nearing extinction

Illegal hunting in Democratic Republic of Congo has wiped out 70 percent of Eastern gorillas in the past two decades and pushed the world’s biggest primate close to extinction, a Red List of endangered species showed on Sunday.

Four of six species of great apes are now rated “critically endangered”, or one step away from extinction, by threats such as hunting and a loss of forests to farmland from West Africa to Indonesia, according to the annual list by wildlife experts.

Eastern gorillas, revised from a lesser category of “endangered”, join their sister species, the Western gorilla, and both species of orangutan which were already on the list as critically endangered.

The other two species of great apes, chimpanzees and bonobos, are rated endangered.

“To see the Eastern gorilla – one of our closest cousins – slide towards extinction is truly distressing,” said Inger Andersen, director general of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) which compiles the Red List.

Millions of people died in fighting in the mineral-rich east of Democratic Republic of Congo from 1996 and 2003 and militias and miners often hunted gorillas for food.

The main population of Eastern gorillas, the biggest primates weighing up to about 200 kg (440 lb), tumbled to an estimated 3,800 animals in 2015 from 16,900 in 1994, according to the report issued at an IUCN congress in Hawaii.

A smaller branch of the Eastern gorilla family – the mountain gorilla – has fared better with the population rising to 880 from perhaps 500 in Rwanda, Uganda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Chimpanzees were most able to adapt to a loss of forest habitats to oil palm plantations or other farms, while gorillas and orangutans were less flexible.

“Chimps get by even if there is only a remnant of a forest,” Elizabeth Williamson, of the IUCN species survival commission for primates, told Reuters. “They can raid crops and steal fruit from farms – gorillas and orangutans don’t.”

Among other changes, the IUCN said the population of plains zebra in Africa had fallen to about 500,000 animals from 660,000, also because of hunting for their meat and stripy skins. That put the species on a watchlist as “near threatened” after being of least concern.

Wyoming Game and Fish takes comments on grizzly bear plan

The state of Wyoming is moving to take over management of grizzly bears as environmental groups increasingly scrutinize whether the bear population in the Greater Yellowstone region could sustain hunting.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission held its first public hearing earlier this week outlining how the state will manage grizzly bears when they come off of the federal endangered species list. It plans other meetings around the state.

Federal announcement

The federal government announced in early March that it intends to lift threatened-species protections for grizzlies in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

The decision could lead to bear hunting in the three states for the first time since the 1970s. There are an estimated 700 to 1,000 grizzly bears in the three states.

State response

State officials have responded enthusiastically to the federal delisting announcement, but several environmental groups have said they don’t believe the Greater Yellowstone bear population can sustain hunting pressure and won’t be protected adequately without federal oversight.

The grizzly delisting decision could be setting the stage for another legal battle pitting environmental groups against state and federal agencies. Environmental groups have been pressing legal challenges for years over the federal government’s push to turn management of Wyoming wolves over to the state.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras in Washington, D.C., has sided with environmental groups that challenged a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase the future number of grizzlies that elk hunters at Grand Teton National Park could kill if necessary in self-defense. The judge rejected an overall challenge to elk hunting there.

Contreras ruled Tuesday that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to document its decision to allow hunters to kill four grizzly bears over the next six years or so if necessary during the elk hunts at Grand Teton. The agency was compelled to consider increasing the number of bears it would allow to be killed there after hunters in 2012 killed a bear that confronted them.

Contreras stated in his ruling that he believes the agency would be able to substantiate its decision to allow the extra bears to be killed.

An attempt to reach a spokeswoman at Grand Teton was not immediately successful. Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael, whose office intervened in the suit, declined comment.

Environmentalists reaction

Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso in Montana represented the Sierra Club, Western Watersheds Project and Center for Biological Diversity in challenging the agency action.

Preso said Wednesday that grizzly bear mortality has been increasing in recent years as white bark pine trees have produced fewer seeds, forcing bears to range farther in search of meat and putting them in conflict with ranchers and hunters.

Preso said he expects environmental groups will assess the federal grizzly delisting proposal carefully and comment on it.

If grizzlies are delisted, each state must have a bear management plan that addresses such things as monitoring bear populations and enforcing wildlife laws. In addition, the three states have a separate proposed plan to coordinate their management of the bears.

Wyoming’s proposed plan provides the framework and guidance on how the state will sustain a recovered population of grizzly bears, state Wildlife Chief Brian Nesvik said during Wednesday’s meeting in Casper. He said the state hopes delisting could occur by the end of this year.

Grizzly bears inside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and on the Wind River Indian Reservation would not be subject to state management.

Wyoming’s plan notes that regulated hunting of grizzly bears may be an option for controlling the number of the animals. It would be up to the state Game and Fish Commission to approve the use of hunting and establish regulations, such as limits and seasons, through a separate process, Game and Fish spokesman Renny MacKay said.

U.S. hunters import 126,000 wildlife ‘trophies’ annually

U.S. hunters import about 126,000 “wildlife trophies” annually and killed about 1.26 million animals between 2005 and 2014, according to the Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States.

Trophy hunting is the killing of animals for body parts, such as the head and hide, for display or decor rather than for food and sustenance. A recent study examining the motivation for such hunts found that U.S. hunters glamorize the killing of an animal to demonstrate virility, prowess and dominance.

A report from Humane Society International/Humane Society of the United States titled Trophy Hunting by the Numbers: the United States’ Role in Global Trophy Hunting, uses an analysis of hunting trophy import data obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Some findings:

• Trophies are primarily imported from Canada and South Africa, followed by Namibia, Mexico, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Tanzania, Argentina, Zambia and Botswana.

• Trophy hunters most want to kill American black bears, impalas, common wildebeests, greater kudus, gemsboks, springboks and bonteboks.

• Trophy hunters highly covet the so-called “African big five” — lions, elephants, leopards, white rhinos and buffalo. All of these species, except the African buffalo, are classified as near threatened or vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

• The U.S. ports of entry that received the most wildlife trophies in the past decade were New York City; Pembina, North Dakota; Chicago; Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas; and Portal, North Dakota.

“This report clearly shows the dire impact American trophy hunters are having on wildlife in other countries,” said Teresa M. Telecky, director of the wildlife department at HSI.

She continued, “It’s outrageous that every year hunters take the lives of thousands of animals, many threatened with extinction, just to win a prize and show off. These animals need protection, not to be mounted on a wall. The fact that rare, majestic species are entering the U.S. in large and small ports of entry should alarm lawmakers and the public concerned about trophy hunting.”

Hunting groups promote the hunts, offering accolades and awards to club members. The largest of these groups, Safari Club International, recently concluded its convention in Las Vegas, where more than 300 mammal hunts for more than 600 animals were auctioned off, and other hunts were arranged privately on the exhibit floor. An African lion trophy hunt can cost $13,500–$49,000. An African elephant hunt can cost $11,000–$70,000.

SCI often uses the revenue from hunt sales to lobby against wildlife protection measures.

U.S. “trophy hunters” highly covet the African big five. The import numbers for 2005–14 are 17,200 African buffalo, 5,600 African lions, 4,600 African elephants, 4,500 African leopards and 330 southern white rhinos. Photo: GraphicStock
U.S. “trophy hunters” highly covet the African big five. The import numbers for 2005–14 are 17,200 African buffalo, 5,600 African lions, 4,600 African elephants, 4,500 African leopards and 330 southern white rhinos. Photo: GraphicStock

For certain species, including lions, elephants, leopards and rhinos, the U.S. is the largest trophy-importing country.

HSI and The HSUS, in a statement on the report, pledged to continue to seek new protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act for species that meet the criteria for listing.

The African lion is the latest species to receive ESA protection, after a multi-year effort by animal protection organizations, including HSI and The HSUS.

The groups are seeking increased ESA protections for species currently listed in a lower category of protection, as was recently done for the African elephant. HSI and The HSUS are also urging corporations — such as Swarovski Optik  — to end sponsorship of trophy-hunting advocacy organizations.

Activists fight to protect wolves from hunts

The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to strip wolves of federal protections in Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The 242–161 vote was on amending a hunting bill, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act. 

“This vote by the U.S. House of Representatives is a crack at the very foundation of the Endangered Species Act, a law that has a 99 percent success rate at pulling species back from the brink of extinction,” said Drew Caputo of the environmental group Earthjustice. “Ninety percent of Americans from across the political spectrum support the act. If we continue down this slippery slope, we could end up in a world where our children or grandchildren might never again see a bald eagle, or a breaching whale, or hear the cry of a wolf in the wild.”

Amendment sponsors include U.S. Reps. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Dan Benishek of Michigan, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.

Their measure, which the House voted for in late February, would override the federal court rulings that state management plans do not sufficiently protect wolves and return species management to states. This could again allow for the trophy hunting of Great Lakes wolves and the killing of wolves in most of Wyoming, where a management plan would provided for shooting wolves on site.

The amendment also contains a clause precluding further judicial review of the removal of federal protections in Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“If enacted, this legislation could prove devastating for the recovery of wolves in the continental United States,” said Caputo. “What’s at stake here is whether wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes will again face the same unregulated killing that nearly wiped them out in the first place.”

The House vote came less than two months after Congress rejected a rider to an omnibus spending bill that would have removed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming.

A similar push is on in the U.S. Senate. In January, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works added a provision to the Sportsmen’s Act to subvert the judicial process and delist wolves. Currently, gray wolves in Minnesota are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act and as “endangered” for Wyoming, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Both the House and Senate measures would order the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reissue a rule to delist the gray wolf. The rule was first issued in late 2011 and cleared the way for states to manage wolf populations, which quickly led to the slaughter of wolves.

Hunting wolves

Wisconsin legislators legalized the use of firearms and crossbows to kill wolves. The state also legalized the baiting, trapping and hounding of wolves.

“In Wisconsin, wolves are killed in some of the most brutal ways,” said Wendy Keefover, manager of The Humane Society of the United State’s native carnivore protection program. “Wisconsin is the only state where you can hound wolves. You can bait wolves. You can use neck snares to trap a wolf. …Wisconsin has some of the most egregious ways to kill.”

Different numbers can be found for the wolf hunts held in 2012–13, 2013–14 and 2014–15 in Wisconsin.

Data from HSUS shows:

  • 2012–13: The 2012 winter wolf count was 779–804 in 205 packs. The proposed hunting quota was 201 wolves. The DNR reported the killing of 117 wolves: 56 hunted and 61 trapped.
  • 2013–14: The wolf population was 660–689 in 197 packs. During that “season,” 17 wolf packs disappeared and the population declined by 19 percent. The HSUS said 65 wolves were killed for livestock depredation, 21 died in vehicle collisions, 59 were killed illegally, and hunters and trappers killed 257 wolves. Some 16,672 applications were filed and 1,879 permits were sold for the trophy hunt.
  • 2014–15: The state issued 1,500 permits to hunters and trappers and set a hunt quota of 156 wolves, prompting an appeal from The HSUS, which said the pace of trophy hunting, along with poaching, would cause a population crash. The HSUS estimated the total number of wolves killed was 301. Less than a week into the hunt, the DNR closed four of the six zones, with half the zones exceeding quotas.

“There was such a rush to hunt,” said Melissa Tedrowe, Wisconsin state director for The HSUS.

“After delisting, the only management tool offered by our state or the other states was to kill wolves,” said environmental activist Kelly Powell of Madison. “That isn’t a management plan. That’s slaughter. That isn’t the way to deal with a recovering species.”

The official wolf hunting season in Wisconsin ended in early December 2014.

That month, a federal judge overturned the delisting of the Great Lakes wolves, putting permitted hunts on hold.

Benishek, in a statement, said the delisting amendment “was based on valuable input from both Michigan and federal officials in order to use sound science to responsibly manage the wolf population while also meeting the needs of local communities. As the number of wolves has increased well beyond the recommended number for recovery, there has been a negative impact on other species and a constant threat to livestock and pets.”

The delisting measure has the support of Safari Club International, a hunting group, and the National Rifle Association, the largest gun ownership group in the United States.

On the opposing side, Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity and The Humane Society of the United States, along with many state and local organizations, maintain the congressional push to delist wolves does not involve sound science or responsible management, nor does it have widespread public support.

“I just really want to emphasize that the American public and the majority of Wisconsinites value and appreciate wolves as they icon that they are,” said Keefover.

She and Tedrowe said the drive to delist is based on myths about wolves as predators and ignores the role of large carnivores in the ecosystem.

A year ago, a coalition of animal protection and conservation organizations suggested reclassifying the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act as threatened throughout the contiguous United States. That move would continue federal oversight and funding for species recovery efforts but provide some regulatory flexibility to address wolf conflicts.

“A congressional end run around science and the Endangered Species Act will create more controversy and put wolves and the law itself in jeopardy,” Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said at the time. “The better path is to downlist wolves to threatened, replace the failed piecemeal efforts of the past with a new science-based recovery strategy and bring communities together to determine how wolves will be returned to and managed in places where they once lived.”

The proposal pending in the Senate and the measure that passed the House does not take that approach. Another version of the Senate bill lacks the delisting amendment, and others opposed by animal welfare advocates and environmentalists.

Activists also have grave concerns that lawmakers may attach riders to budget bills providing for the delisting of gray wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming.

Recommended reading …

Wyoming’s dire plans for the wolves by Tim Preso of EarthJustice.

Grizzly protection in Yellowstone may end

The federal government is proposing to lift threatened-species protections for hundreds of Yellowstone-area grizzlies, opening the door to future hunts for the fearsome bears across parts of three states for the first time since the 1970s.

The Associated Press obtained details of the proposal in advance of an announcement on March 3. It caps a four-decade, government-sponsored effort to rebuild the grizzly population and follows the lifting of protections in recent years for more than a dozen other species, including the gray wolf, brown pelican and flying squirrel.

Hunting within Yellowstone National Park would still be prohibited. But the proposal could allow animals to be taken in surrounding parts of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

“By the time the curtain closes on the Obama administration, we are on track to have delisted more species due to recovery than all previous administrations combined,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe told the AP. “We’ve done that because of several decades of hard work, like with the grizzly bear.”

The Grizzly in America

Grizzlies once roamed much of North America and came to symbolize the continent’s untamed wilderness. Hunters and trappers had nearly wiped them out across most of the Lower 48 states by the late 1800s.

A final decision on the proposal is due within a year. It could come sooner if state wildlife commissioners act quickly to adopt rules on how much hunting is allowed. Those rules are not mandatory under the federal proposal, federal officials said.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock told the AP that the bear population would be responsibly managed by state wildlife officials. The Democrat said if a public hunt for the animals is pursued, it could be done in a way that avoids killing bears that live on the periphery of Yellowstone National Park.

“Yellowstone wildlife is treasured. We understand that. We’ll manage them in a way that addresses that sensitivity,” Bullock said.

Protections would remain in place for about 1,000 bears in and around Glacier National Park and smaller populations elsewhere in Montana, Idaho and Washington state. Grizzlies are not protected in Alaska, where hunting has long been allowed.

Since grizzlies in the Lower 48 were added to the endangered and threatened species list in 1975, the number in the Yellowstone region increased from 136 animals to an estimated 700 to 1,000 today, according to government researchers.

Yet after years of growth, the grizzly population plateaued in recent years, and some wildlife advocates say it’s too soon to allow hunting. Also opposed are dozens of American Indian tribes that view the grizzly as a sacred animal.

Formal consultations between the tribes and the Interior Department are ongoing, although Ashe said the issue is unlikely to be resolved.

Federal and state officials said limits on how many bears can be killed will safeguard against a collapse in the bear population.

If bear numbers drop below 600, intentional killings through hunting and the removal of bears that attack livestock would be prohibited. Exceptions would be made for bears that threaten public safety. More hunting would be allowed when bear numbers increase.

Grizzly numbers rebounded despite declines in some of their key food sources, including cutthroat trout and the nuts of whitebark pine, a high-elevation tree devastated by bark beetles and an invasive fungus.

Environmentalists argue that those declines are good reasons to keep protecting the region’s grizzlies. But government-sponsored studies have shown grizzlies are able to adapt easily to different types of food, said Brian Nesvik, wildlife and law enforcement chief for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The last legal hunts for Yellowstone-area bears happened in the 1970s. The animals were taken off the threatened species list in 2007, but that move was struck down and protections were restored two years later after environmental groups challenged the government in court.

State officials and members of Congress have pointed to the case of the grizzly bear as an example of how the Endangered Species Act needs changes so animals don’t linger under federal protections once they are recovered.

Ashe said reforms aren’t needed as much as money to help species recover.