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Environment: Not quite a win for the wolves

March 21, 2011 |  1:34 pm

It's not that there's anything wrong with the settlement on gray wolves. It's the reason behind it that's so troubling.

The argument has been long and loud over whether the wolves should be listed as endangered. Their numbers are way up, but how likely was that to continue? Renegade state Wyoming's idea of species management sounded basically like "Shoot the varmints on sight!" The never-ending debate and legal wrangling, which was doing more for lawyers than the wolves, prompted several conservative congressmen to introduce legislation that would have gone around the Endangered Species Act by singling out wolves as a species that should be delisted -- though perhaps not in Wyoming.

That's pretty much what the new settlement will do. The gray wolf will be delisted in Montana and Idaho, and kept on the list in Wyoming, Utah, Washington and Oregon. So what did the conservationists get out of this? The federal government agrees to expanded study of the wolves' well-being, including reconsidering whether 300 wolves -- the original goal of the wolf-reintroduction program -- is enough. Probably not; that sounds more like keeping the species teetering on the brink of extinction than returning it to health in the wild.

The bigger win, if you can call it that, is that the agreement would stave off any legislation, which would be a terrible precedent for turning the science of the Endangered Species Act into a political football over each species. But we do have the precedent of politicians undermining the act by threatening to pass legislation. Is that really much better?

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