U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service plays “good news, bad news” joke on nominally protected species in National Wildlife Refuges––and it isn’t funny
WASHINGTON D.C.––The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service giveth, maybe, at least on paper, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service taketh away, in bloody reality in wolf habitat throughout the northern Rocky Mountains.
Conflicting U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services announcements appear to have transiently fooled––among many others––Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block and Sara Amundson, president of the subsidiary Humane Society Legislative Fund.
Jointly blogged Block and Amundson on Thursday, February 1, 2024, a day before the announcement on Friday, February 2, 2024 that undercut their enthusiasm, “Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will be proposing a rule that would ban predator control on the National Wildlife Refuge system.
“Rule would protect native carnivores living on refuges”
“This rule would protect native carnivores living on refuges,” Block and Amundson exulted, “including wolves, bears, coyotes, cougars, foxes and bobcats.”
The proposed rule, which is still far from taking effect, would not only spare thousands of these often targeted species’ lives, but also significantly reduce cruelty in the name of “wildlife management.”
As Block and Amundson recited, “Many predator control methods are cruel. If animals are shot from the air, the gunners may not make a clean kill, wounding and leaving the animal to die slowly from blood loss.
Trapping, snaring, poisoning, hounding
“Animals caught in traps will struggle to escape, breaking or injuring their legs, paws, or teeth.
“Animals caught in neck snares may suffer edema, or what trappers call ‘jelly head,’ a condition in which blood rushes to the animal’s head and cannot go back out, causing excruciating swelling.
“Some baits used to attract animals are toxic and can cause painful conditions like seizures, vomiting and heart arrhythmias.
“Hunting down wild animals with packs of radio-collared hounds can result in gruesome fights that can injure or kill all animals involved, and also put dependent kittens, pups or cubs in the crosshairs, sometimes leading to their deaths as well.”
What Dinah Washington said about it
“What a difference a day makes, just 24 little hours,” sang Dinah Washington in 1961, long before wolves, bears, coyotes, cougars, foxes and bobcats became hot-button campaign issues in most of the western swing states whose voters may determine the outcome of the 2024 U.S. presidential election and the composition of Congress for the next two years.
On February 2, 2024, Block and Amundson mourned what they termed a “reckless decision” by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service “that wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains do not warrant federal relisting under the Endangered Species Act, despite ongoing and brutal carnage in the region.”
Western Environmental Law Center explains
This decision, explained Western Environmental Law Center communications director Brian Sweeney, “responds to a petition to list the western U.S. population of the gray wolf submitted by 70 conservation groups in July 2021, after Idaho and Montana passed new laws to promote wolf killing. Since that time, hundreds of wolves have been killed each year in the core of the species’ range in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
“In 2011,” Sweeney recounted, “Congress legislatively stripped wolves in the western U.S., primarily in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, of their endangered species protections, giving states management authority.
“However,” Sweeney added, “the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has the authority to relist the wolf population if it finds the population currently meets the definition for a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.
“We plan to send our notice of intent to sue”
“We plan to send our notice of intent to sue on Monday,” Sweeney said.
That would be February 5, 2024.
Fulminated Western Environmental Law Center attorney Kelly Nokes, “A handful of states,” specifically Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, “are standing in the way of wolf recovery nationwide, espousing an outdated, anti-science, eradication mindset.
“Aggressive state policies promoting wolf killing in the northern Rockies states especially,” Nokes charged, “are primitive relics that must change for wolves to reestablish their rightful place in the wild.”
Agreed Western Watersheds Project executive director Erik Molvar, “It is obvious that wolves don’t have adequate regulatory mechanisms to protect them in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, where they are being targeted for extermination by state governments.
“Clears the way for states to kill them all”
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service verdict “clears the way for states like Idaho to finish the job and kill them all,” lamented International Wildlife Coexistence Network director Suzanne Asha Stone, whose organization, like the Western Environmental Law Center, is headquartered in Idaho.
Recounted Block and Amundson, “Wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have faced relentless persecution from trophy hunters, trappers and predator control agents for years following their loss of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
“For example,” Block and Amundson continued, “in about 85% of Wyoming, wolves can be killed on sight using virtually any method at any time of the year.
“Conditions in Idaho and Montana became even worse in 2021, when those states enacted policies aimed at drastically increasing wolf killings and slashing the wolf population.
“Entire wolf families can be killed by horrific methods”
“Now entire wolf families, including pups, can be killed using the most horrific methods,” Block and Amundson described, “including strangling wire neck snares and with the use of bait and night vision equipment.
“Both states currently offer reimbursements—essentially bounties—for costs incurred killing wolves.
“Meanwhile, Idaho and Montana are continuing to ramp up their war on wolves. Last year, Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission approved a new wolf management plan with the goal of reducing the wolf population by 60% by 2028, largely through increasing and incentivizing trophy hunting and trapping. Montana is currently considering a new wolf management plan that, while not as explicit as Idaho’s plan, also seeks to drastically reduce the number of wolves in the state.”
Further, charged Block and Amundson, “Both states have begun using new modeling methods to estimate their wolf populations,” which may “significantly overestimate the number of wolves living in their states,” resulting not only in killing but perhaps in over-killing to the point of again extirpating wolves from the northern Rockies, nearly 30 years after they were reintroduced in 1995.
Rulemaking delays highly likely
At a glance, one might hope that the proposed U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service prohibition of predator control of native species within National Wildlife Refuges might somewhat mitigate the mayhem left unleashed by the decision of the same agency to continue to leave wolves in the northern Rockies unprotected by the Endangered Species Act.
Wolves at least might have some “safe” places to hide, albeit places already occupied by other wolves.
But among the 30-day and probable 60-day comment periods required by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service rule-making process, the probability of lawsuits from ranching and hunting organizations introducing further delays, and the likelihood that another Donald Trump presidential administration would freeze the rule-making process entirely, as Trump did upon taking office in 2017, there is no likelihood that the prohibition of native predator control will come into effect soon, if ever, while Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming hunters and predator control agents will continue to kill wolves all the while.
“Weasel words” not good for weasels, either
Further, even if the prohibition of predator control of native species does take effect as written, as written it is full of “weasel words” not to the benefit of weasels or any other member of the order Carnivora.
Says the proposed new rule, “We prohibit predator control unless it is determined necessary to meet statutory requirements, fulfill refuge purposes, and ensure biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health,” all highly flexible definitions.
For example, if cattle and sheep grazing is deemed a refuge purpose, as is the case on many refuges, killing cattle predators, including wolves, might continue.
Killing wolves to protect sheep & cattle on refuges may not be “predator control”
In addition, the proposed new rule says, “We do not consider the following actions to be predator control,” enumerating “Agency removal of native predator(s) solely to protect public health and safety”; “Compatible, refuge-approved recreational hunting and fishing opportunities that do not compromise maintaining biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health on the refuge; and Removal of invasive species.”
While the term “invasive species” is usually understood by the public to mean “introduced species,” USDA Wildlife Services typically uses it to mean any species considered problematic in a particular place.
This includes wolves, bears, coyotes, cougars, foxes, bobcats, and weasels too, each listed with a body count in every USDA Wildlife Services annual report.
Proposed new rule better than nothing
But the proposed U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service semi-prohibition of predator control of native species on National Wildlife Refuges would likely protect more animals than are protected now.
“If finalized,” blogged Block and Amundson, “this rule would help provide a science-based approach for managing wildlife on refuges,” all 570 of them, “occupying 95 million land acres and 750 million marine acres across all 50 states and five U.S. territories,” Block and Amundson recounted.
“To help ensure essential protections for native carnivores,” Block and Amundson said, “we’ll be fighting for the swift approval and implementation of this new rule.”
“Egregious, aggressive, & lax wolf regulations”
Meanwhile, Western Environmental Law Center and Humane Society of the U.S. allies lined up to testify against the continued exemption of wolves from Endangered Species Act protection in the Northern Rockies.
K.C. York, president and founder of Trap Free Montana, denounced “egregious, aggressive, and lax wolf regulations” that are “destroying alpha pairs, juveniles, pups, dispersers for vital genetic exchange, and entire packs, wreaking havoc on their critically necessary social system and disrupting their ability to survive into the future and expand into their historic range,” which is exactly want Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming ranchers and hunting outfitters want.
“Tragically, the wolf has become a pawn in a well-orchestrated campaign of disinformation,” observed Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense.
“Politics trump science”
“Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have become the poster children for what happens when politics trump science,” Fahey alleged. “What they are doing to wolves—wantonly shooting, trapping and snaring them or driving over them with a snowmobile—can only be described as animal torture.”
Agreed George Nickas, executive director at Wilderness Watch, “Time and again, wolves keep serving as martyrs for political compromise and capitulation to bad-faith actors.”
Also lending their voices were Lizzy Pennock, carnivore coexistence attorney at WildEarth Guardians; Mike Garrity, executive director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies; Paul Busch, membership director for Friends of the Clearwater; and Roger Dobson with Protect The Wolves.