Handouts to hunters, fishers, loggers, miners, & the oil and gas extraction industries
BLOOMINGTON, Minnesota––U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on October 29, 2020 announced that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is removing gray wolves from Endangered Species Act protection throughout the Lower 48 states.
The wolf delisting is widely seen as a blatant concession to hunters and ranchers on the eve of the November 3, 2020 national election.
A witch doctor afraid of losing an election might in the closing days of the campaign sacrifice to pagan idols a sheep, a goat, and a couple of chickens.
Scientific integrity policy sacrificed too
The Donald Trump administration, desperate to remain in the White House and to keep a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, has in recent weeks sacrificed to his political base among hunters, fishers, loggers, miners, and the oil and gas extraction industries not only gray wolves, but also grizzly bears, wolverines, and North Atlantic right whales, among others, in numbers ranging from the hundreds to perhaps the last remnants of the wolverine in the Lower 48 states and North Atlantic right whale species.
Also to be considered are animals indirectly sacrificed to Trump administration climate change denial.
Oceans of animals, for instance, may suffer because National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration chief of staff Erik Noble, a Trump appointee, fired acting NOAA chief scientist Craig McLean in September 2020, after McLean asked Noble and other recent Trump appointees to observe the agency’s scientific integrity policy.
Right whale protection weakened to expedite oil & gas exploration
McLean was fired only weeks after NOAA “paused” an inquiry into alleged political interference in science regarding protections for the endangered North Atlantic right whale, according to the advocacy group Democracy Forward. The global population of North Atlantic right whales is believed to be fewer than 400.
“NOAA launched the scientific integrity inquiry,” recounted Rachel Frazin for The Hill, “after Roll Call reported in March 2020 that protections for the whale species were weakened after they were reviewed by the agency’s ‘political team.’
“Roll Call reported that scientists found that blasting air guns near where right whales give birth could harm the animals,” explained Frazin, “but were told to change their findings because the [Trump] administration wants oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.”
High-pressure air gun blasts are part of the underwater oil and gas exploration process.
Wolves in the sights nationwide
Concerning wolves, the delisting “takes effect 60 days after being published,” wrote Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Jennifer Bjorhus. “The national delisting decision turns management of wolves over to states to handle as they see fit,” Bjorhus said.
Wolves in the northern Rocky Mountain states had already been delisted, and in Alaska were never listed as endangered.
The Trump administration delisting decision, however, potentially puts wolves in hunters’ crosshairs in Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, the upper Midwest, and Maine: in short, in any state that wolves appear to be re-colonizing, a century or more in most cases, after having been hunted to extirpation.
Speaking at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington, a Minneapolis suburb better known as home of the Mall of America, Interior Secretary Bernhardt appeared to recognize that delisting wolves could again lead to regional losses of the species.
“Provided there is not dramatic human-induced mortality”
“Wolves are very resilient animals, provided there is not dramatic human-induced mortality,” Bernhardt told Bjorhus.
“Asked about the timing of the announcement, made in a swing state just days before a highly-charged presidential election, Bernhardt called it a coincidence,” Bjorhus said.
But as proto-conservationist Henry David Thoreau observed in 1850, “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.
“Given that gray wolves in the lower 48 states occupy a fraction of their historical and currently available habitat,” said Western Environmental Law Center attorney John Mellgren, “this appears to be politically motivated.
“Legal challenge planned”
Elaborated Western Environmental Law Center communications director Brian Sweeney, “The most recent data from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and its state partners show an estimated 4,400 wolves inhabit the western Great Lakes states, but only 108 wolves are in Washington state, 158 in Oregon, and a scant 15 in California. These numbers lay the groundwork for a legal challenge planned by a coalition of Western conservation groups.
“In delisting wolves,” Sweeney said, “the Fish & Wildlife Service ignores the science showing they are not recovered in the West. The Service concluded that because in its belief there are sufficient wolves in the Great Lakes states, it does not matter that wolves in the West are not yet recovered. The Environmental Species Act demands more, including restoring the species in the ample suitable habitats afforded by the wild public lands throughout the West.
“Indeed,” Sweeney noted, “wolves are listed as endangered under state laws in Washington and California, and wolves only occupy a small portion of available, suitable habitat in Oregon. Likewise, wolves also remain absent across vast swaths of their historical, wild, public lands habitat in the West, including in Colorado and the southern Rockies.”
“We don’t have to guess at the carnage”
Blogged Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block and Sara Amundson, president of the subsidiary Humane Society Legislative Fund, “HSUS is putting the Department of the Interior on alert that they and their partners will challenge this rule in court to get these protections restored.
“Wolves were first given Endangered Species Act protections in 1974,” Block and Amundson recalled, “after activities like trophy hunting and trapping, along with other manmade causes like habitat loss, led to dangerous drops in their population. Today wolves can only be found in only about 15% of their historic range in the contiguous United States.
“If states begin to open trophy hunting seasons on wolves,” Block and Amundson predicted, “we don’t have to guess how bad the carnage is likely to get; we have already witnessed it in the handful of states where wolves have been delisted over the past decade.
“In 2011,” Block and Amundson mentioned, “Congress directed the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service to remove Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho as a nod to agricultural and trophy hunting interests.”
Montana & Idaho together kill nearly half their wolves
Montana currently claims 900 wolves; 315 wolves were shot or trapped for alleged sport in Montana in 2018.
Idaho claims to have 1,000 wolves.
Said the Center for Biological Diversity in a prepared statement, “According to an analysis of records obtained by Western Watersheds Project, hunters, trappers, and state and federal agencies killed 570 wolves in Idaho during a 12-month period from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020. Included in the mortality were at least 35 wolf pups, some weighing under 16 pounds and likely only 4 to 6 weeks old. Some of the wolves shattered teeth trying to bite their way out of traps, others died of hyperthermia in traps set by the USDA’s Wildlife Services, and more were gunned down in aerial control actions. The total mortality during this period represented nearly 60% of the 2019 year-end estimated Idaho wolf population.”
Worse, continued the Center for Biological Diversity, “The Idaho Department of Fish and Game recently announced it had awarded approximately $21,000 in ‘challenge grants’ to Foundation 4 Wildlife Management, which reimburses wolf trappers a bounty up to $1,000 per wolf killed. The Foundation also has received funding for wolf bounties from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. A single individual may now kill up to 30 wolves under Department hunting and trapping rules,” up from 20 in recent previous years.
Open season on wolves in 85% of Wyoming
Resumed Block and Amundson, “Wolves in Wyoming lost their federal Endangered Species Act protections in 2017. In Wyoming, wolves can be shot on sight in 85% of the state,” with only Yellowstone National Park and a “trophy zone” close to Yellowstone exempted.
Of the estimated Wyoming wolf population of about 300, including about 100 wolves living within Yellowstone, at least 44 were killed in 2018 and 30 in 2019.
Minnesota governor Tim Walz is on record in opposition to wolf hunting, as is lieutenant governor Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. Both Walz and Flanagan are Democrats.
Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel, also a Democrat, on July 15, 2020 advised Interior Secretary Bernhardt that the current Michigan state administration viewed his “flawed proposal to declare the full recovery of gray wolves nationwide” as “unlawful” under the Endangered Species Act. The Michigan wolf population has officially recovered to 695, from just six as of 1973.
Wolf hunting resumes almost immediately in Wisconsin
In Wisconsin, claiming 1,057 resident wolves, wolf hunting may resume by December, when the federal delisting becomes official.
Explained Associated Press, “Then-Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed a law in 2012 that requires the state Department of Natural Resources to hold a wolf season beginning in November and running through February. The department administered three hunts before a federal judge placed Great Lakes wolves back on the endangered species list in 2014. The law remains valid, which means the DNR would have to reinstate the hunt if protections are lifted.”
“U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has gone rogue”
For Block and Amundson, the wolf delisting confirmed an impression expressed in an October 20, 2020 blog that “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has ‘gone rogue,’” having moved “way over on the dark side, along with its parent agency, the Department of the Interior, when it comes to the killing of charismatic wildlife by America’s trophy hunters.”
Triggering that declaration, Block and Amundson explained, was that the Fish & Wildlife Service reopened a public comment period on a “proposal to allow trophy hunters to lure brown bears to their deaths with rotting piles of pastries and donuts” within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.”
Also courting hunter votes to re-elect Trump, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on August 18, 2020 either opened or expanded hunting and fishing seasons on 147 National Wildlife Refuges.
Of the 568 National Wildlife Refuges, 430––76%––are now open to hunting and 360 are open to fishing.
Wolverines again denied protection
On October 8, 2020, recalled Western Environmental Law Center communications director Sweeney, “the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued a decision—once again—to deny much-needed Endangered Species Act protections to imperiled wolverines, who number about 300 in the contiguous U.S.
“In April 2016,” Sweeney explained, “a federal judge sided with the Western Environmental Law Center and the conservation groups we represented,” agreeing that an August 2014 decision not to list wolverines as threatened was “arbitrary and contrary to the scientific literature.”
U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen opined then that, “No greater level of certainty is needed to see the writing on the wall for this snow-dependent species standing squarely in the path of global climate change.”
Listing wolverines as either threatened or endangered is opposed by hunters, trappers, the logging industry, and the mineral extraction industry, including oil and gas drillers.
Trump administration moves to define “habitat” in narrow terms
Loggers and the mineral extraction industry fear that Endangered Species Act protection for wolverines would lead to critical habitat designations, which might in turn restrict industry use of land.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on July 31, 2020 proposed to formally define the term “habitat” as used in Endangered Species Act enforcement.
“Congress never defined the term when it passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973,” explained Associated Press, “leaving a critical component of endangered species protection without a solid legal basis,” albeit for a sound biological reason, in that “habitat” may mean distinctly different things for different species.
“The service said it would finally define habitat after a federal court ruling in 2018, tied to a dispute over the term, still left its definition unresolve,” Associated Press continued.
Each of two proposed definitions of “habitat” offered by the Fish & Wildlife Service “fail to account for the ways climate change may shift a species’ habitat or allow for habitat to be restored,” objected Defenders of Wildlife senior endangered species counsel Jason Rylander.