The image of the government declaring "Mission Accomplished" is etched in Americans' minds, and not in a good way. Just as former President George W. Bush was wrong when he made that announcement about the Iraq war, the feds might well be wrong in declaring the gray wolf no longer in need of protection in the West.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the mission of recovering populations of the gray wolf, which once roamed throughout the United States, has been successful, and the top predator can now fend for himself. Considering that the illogical and irrational attitudes toward the wolf that resulted in its extermination in the West nearly a century ago remain, the agency may be acting too soon.
The FWS has concluded the current number of gray wolves in the lower 48 states no longer qualifies it for listing under the Endangered Species Act, but rightly recommended the Mexican gray wolf remain listed as an endangered subspecies.
The FWS will open a 90-day comment period on the proposal to seek additional scientific, commercial and technical information.
Advocates for delisting the wolf say management decisions should be made at the state level, not by federal agencies, now that the reintroduction process is complete. The problem with state-level decisions is that in the minds of many officials, "management" of the wolf is synonymous with "eradicating" the animal. For example, Wyoming's proposed management plan essentially allowed anyone to shoot any wolf on sight for any reason. That's not management.
Maintaining wildlife populations for human hunters and protecting livestock are the primary objectives of most local officials and ranchers, who still see the wolf as, at best, an unnecessary nuisance, and, at worst, an evil demon bent on wiping out whole herds of cattle and sheep. In reality, wolves improve the ecosystems they share with elk, moose and deer, as scientific research has shown in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem since their reintroduction.
Ranchers are compensated for livestock predation by wolves under the Endangered Species Act. Will that compensation be continued if the predators are delisted? If not, and even in some cases if so, it will be open season on wolves wherever livestock graze.
The recovery of the gray wolf in the West is a dramatic success story. When the animal is delisted as an endangered species, the federal government should continue to monitor its management by states, or it could disappear once again.