Conservation groups demand strong wolf protection

Wolf Recovery Foundation, 19 other groups, call on Secretary Norton not to weaken protection for wolf recovery


Washington, D.C. -- A coalition of more than 20 conservation and animal welfare organizations, including the Wolf Recovery Foundation, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the Humane Society of the United States, as well as
numerous regional groups, today called on Interior Secretary Gale Norton not to weaken Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for wolves. In a letter to the Secretary, the groups opposed plans by the Bush Administration to make it more difficult to restore wolves to the nation's wildlands.

"Secretary Norton is packing up her tools before the job is finished," said Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife. "Restored wolves in the Northern Rockies brought with them a burst of biological diversity that is resonating throughout the ecosystem, and a rush of tourist and economic activity that is echoing through local
communities. It would be shortsighted in the extreme to slam the door on such a promising beginning."

The Administration is expected to soon release a final rule on the status of wolves throughout the lower 48 states, impacting ESA protections for wolves throughout the West and the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The Administration has also indicated it will back away from a Clinton Administration proposal to
initiate wolf recovery efforts in Northeast states.

"The wolf is a symbol of wild America and thanks to the Endangered Species Act, the gray wolf is on its way to recovering healthy numbers in America's wildlands. Over the past 20 years a great deal of progress has been made on wolf recovery, but the job isn't over by a long shot," said Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club.

Scientists have determined that several regions contain suitable habitat for wolves, including northern New England, the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado and parts of northern California, Oregon and
Washington State. The impending rule ignores the value of these regions to wolf recovery and conservation. Once the recovery objectives are met for the original, more limited recovery areas, ESA protections for wolves will be removed across the broader range of the newly established recovery zones. Because this approach to wolf
recovery is legally suspect and scientifically unjustified, the state Fish and Wildlife agencies in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming also oppose the plan.

"Yellowstone and the Great Lakes states should not be the final chapter in the story of wolf recovery. Wolves must return to many more of our nation's wildlands before our responsibility to restore this important part of our wildlife heritage will be met. As experience has shown, the surest way to meet this responsibility is through the Endangered Species Act," continued Pope.

"Where wolves have returned, their continued success must be secured through increased numbers and distribution. In those wildlands where wolves remain displaced, such as the Olympic Peninsula and Maine woods, recovery efforts under the ESA are still waiting to be initiated," said Dr. Elizabeth Stallman, a wildlife scientist with the
Humane Society of the United States. "Unfortunately the Bush Administration is not taking the steps necessary to achieve these goals. Indeed, it seems they are trying to distance themselves as much as possible from wolf recovery."

Conservationists are also concerned that the Fish and Wildlife Service is easing recovery goals for the Northern Rockies wolf population. The original recovery plan called for 10 packs each in three different areas: the Yellowstone ecosystem, central Idaho and northwest Montana. However, FWS is currently stating that a total of 30 packs anywhere in the region will suffice. Because wolves in northwestern Montana aren't faring as well as those in the other two regions, the concern is that wolf recovery in that area will be stalled indefinitely if the recovery goals are changed now.

The letter is attached below:

May 1, 2002

Dear Secretary Norton:

We are writing to express our concern over the pending U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service (FWS) final rule on gray wolf reclassification under
the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The administration has made it
clear that the reclassification rule, expected this spring, will be a
final rule addressing wolf recovery nationally. The following are
among our specific concerns with the administration's current plan:

The final rule rescinds last year's proposed Distinct Population
Segment status for the Northeastern states, a status supported by the
majority of both public and scientific comments received on the
proposed rule.

No further consideration has been given by the FWS to recovery
proposals offered by scientists and citizen groups for the southern
Rockies and Pacific Northwest.

The final rule expands the Western Distinct Population Segment to
include most of the western states without changing the recovery goals
to achieve full recovery in this multi-state region, a move that is
biologically unwarranted and subject to legal challenge. Because this
aspect of the proposal is so inappropriate for biological and legal
reasons, five western state wildlife management agencies have
officially requested that the reclassification process be terminated.

The final rule will effectively turn wolf management over to ill
equipped and poorly funded state wildlife management agencies before
wolf recovery in the United States is complete.

We believe that this final rule is not compatible with the mandate of
the Endangered Species Act and are concerned because this
document will represent the future of federal wolf management in the
United States.

The value of wolves to a healthy environment is well documented, as is
the public support for new and continued wolf recovery efforts across
the nation. When the FWS issued its proposed rule on gray wolf
recovery last year, citizens welcomed it as an opportunity to reshape
the federal effort to conserve this important species by building upon
the program's successes and correcting past mistakes. During the
public comment period, the FWS received thousands of comments from
both the general public and members of the scientific community, the
vast majority of which indicated that the job of wolf recovery is far
from complete. It now appears that the FWS is intent on ignoring
public opinion and sound science and is prematurely backing away from
wolf recovery efforts.

We are especially concerned about the path the Administration appears
to be pursuing on gray wolf reclassification in light of other recent
decisions likely to be inconsistent with the intent of the Endangered
Species Act, including the retreat from grizzly bear recovery efforts
in Idaho and Montana, the abandonment of protections for salmon
habitat in the Pacific Northwest and legislative attempts to deny
citizens the ability to hold public agencies accountable when they
fail to conserve deserving species under the law. We fear these
actions signal a serious lack of commitment to conserving our nation's
imperiled wildlife.

Americans have made it clear that they support continued federal
efforts to conserve and recover the wolf in all of our nation's
remaining wildlands. The scientific community has warned that wolves
are necessary for healthy natural communities, as evidenced by the
reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone and central Idaho. We urge
you to re-think the wisdom of this new course of action on wolves and
instead develop a program that reflects the best scientific thinking
and the desires of the American people for this magnificent member of
our wildlife heritage.

Defenders of Wildlife *
Sierra Club *
Humane Society of the United States *
Center for Biological Diversity *
Endangered Species Coalition *
The Wildlands Project *
Sinapu *
RESTORE: The North Woods *
California Wolf Center *
Forest Watch *
Headwaters *
Idaho Conservation League *
Klamath Forest Allaiance *
Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center *
Mountain Lion Foundation *
New Hampshire Wolf Alliance *
Oregon Natural Desert Association *
Oregon Natural Resources Council *
Wolf Education & Research Center *
Wolf Haven International *
Wolf Recovery Foundation*

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