Wolf Delisting?

In the news this week is a Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to delist the Gray Wolf from endangered species protections entirely.  At one level, this makes fine sense: populations are established in the northern Rockies and in the western Great Lakes region, meeting the original goals of the recovery plan.  But how few of our woods and fields that once knew the animal is it yet restored to.   And how many are the foes of its recovery, pushing hard for the removal of federal protections and eager to reduce the wolf to ecologically insignificant numbers once more.  The state of the wolf recovery in the lower 48 has been but a hopeful, promising bud of Spring, which some seek to nip ere it flowers.  The success of the Gray Wolf restoration has been a token of hope for the rewilding and restoration of America’s ecology.  The Red Wolf still flounders in the East, living mostly in captivity.  The Mexican Wolf restoration falters on the brink.  From the mountains of Maine to the Sierra Nevada, there is work yet to be done in wolf restoration. The northern Rockies hear the howl again, but it is not a tenth of the former range.  Shall we having once put our hand to the plow now recoil from it?

But the cattle, it is protested, the wolves are killing and eating our cattle.  (Isn’t that what they are for?)  Nostalgia for the wolves should not trump economic sense.  But what are the cattle doing on our public lands anyway?  Cowboy welfare and its below cost public leases, these are not a higher use of the land.  That too is but a nostalgia for a day gone by, and an inferior nostalgia at that.  The wolf is viable and can be recovered.  The ranching economy (at least for cows) maybe not.  Besides, the wolf is a better steward of the land and keeps it from overgrazing.  Cattle have destroyed too much already in the arid western landscapes.  Let the cattle leases expire and make way for the return of the Bison.  They know how to live with wolves.  Once they provided meat for many nations, and it could be so again.

Photo: Gary Kramer, USFWS

Photo: Gary Kramer, USFWS

But what shall we say for the wolf?  Public commenting on the proposed change opens today.  Wolf populations are such that they could have long-term viability with reasonable state management, but there is immense pressure at the state level towards a policy of near extermination.  Taking the political climate into account, continued federal protections appear necessary for the packs to flourish.  Reasonably large numbers at present won’t secure the species from intentional policies of extermination.  The wolf is endangered and should be protected as such, until we learn to be peaceable and accepting neighbors.

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About dghenderson

David Henderson teaches environmental ethics in the Philosophy and Religion Department at Western Carolina University. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy and and M.S. in wildlife and fisheries sciences from Texas A&M University.

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