Some people want to destroy or weaken the jewel of our environmental laws — the Endangered Species Act. Those who attack scientific protection for the Mexican Wolf are attacking the basis of the Act. In his Courier column of February 25th, Senator Jeff Flake does just that.
Senator Flake complains about what he calls “onerous regulations” and “mishandling of the Mexican gray wolf recovery effort.” He incorrectly states that the 1982 Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan set a recovery goal of 100 wolves. In fact, the recovery plan stated that “the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team sees no possibility for complete delisting of the Mexican wolf,” pending completion of its short-term objectives to establish two “viable” populations of at least 100 wolves in the wild — after which a planned revision to the recovery plan would set actual recovery and delisting goals.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — after wilting for decades in the face of livestock industry and Arizona Game and Fish Department opposition —responded to a lawsuit by conservationists by finally agreeing to complete the intended revision of the recovery plan by this November. An opportunity for public comment will commence within months. Senator Flake has proposed legislation that would replace the upcoming recovery plan with a plan dictated by the state of Arizona working with the livestock industry and anti-wolf hunting groups. When that proposed plan’s political and special interest criteria are met, he wants the Mexican gray wolf to be taken off the endangered species list permanently.
The Mexican wolf is a genetically unique subspecies of gray wolf adapted to our arid region. Persecution by government on behalf of the livestock industry reduced the wolves to just seven surviving animals that — thanks to the 1973 passage of the Endangered Species Act– were successfully captured and bred to stave off extinction. Reintroduction programs have brought the wild population in the U.S. to 113 animals and in Mexico to about 35 animals, but neither population is yet viable and both need careful, science-based management to ensure they persist.
When the Arizona Game and Fish Department took effective control of the U.S. reintroduction program from 2004 to 2009, they trapped and shot so many wolves that the population took a downturn and incurred additional damage to the remaining genetic heritage of the Mexican wolf. Senator Flake proposes to once again hand control of Mexican wolf management to Game and Fish. Do we want to return to that?
Senator Flake’s legislation sets political rather than scientific criteria for delisting, and would relegate the wolves to the not-so-tender mercies of people who still wish to drive the Mexican wolf to extinction. The Mexican wolves should receive scientific management and should be recovered to play their natural role in the ecosystem. For that, maintaining the wolves on the endangered species list is vital. Special commercial interests should not determine how and when we protect animals, or when the protection should be removed.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity: “The Endangered Species Act is one of the most successful environmental laws in U.S. history and America’s foremost tool for protecting biodiversity. Its purpose is to prevent the extinction of our most at-risk plants and animals, increase their numbers, and effect their full recovery — and, eventually, their removal from the endangered list.” The Act has been responsible for saving many species formerly on the brink of extinction, including the bald eagle, gray wolf and California sea otter.
Many of us are concerned about the loss of all the services provided by our natural systems. Do we want to exist outside the natural world? Can we? Science has shown that removal of one top predator (such as the Mexican wolf) can cause a serious increase in the number of wild grazers, who then cause overgrazing and a crash in the local biome. If we want to protect our nation’s part of the earth for future generations, we need to support the Endangered Species Act. By doing so, we are maintaining one of the strongest tools to assure that some semblance of the natural world will remain. When species are lost, it is a sign that our natural world is falling apart.
Howard Mechanic is a Prescott resident, and has been active in various environmental issues since the first Earth Day in 1970.