In 1995 and 1996 the federal government took actions to reintroduce the wolf into areas where it had been previously eradicated. Specifically, experimental populations were introduced into the Yellowstone area and central Idaho. This was from the beginning, and remains to this day, a controversial decision.
In spite of the fact that wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains have vastly exceeded recovery goals put into place in the 1990’s, and multiple determinations by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife that they are fully recovered and should be removed from the endangered species list, a district court ruling in Montana relisted the entire population in August 2010.
Keeping wolves on the endangered species list is in no one’s best interest but those who benefit from ongoing litigation. On the other hand providing a long-term solution to the management of these animals serves the interest of the states, the federal agencies, ranchers and hunters, and those whose true goal is a sustainable wolf population in the Rocky Mountain west.
This is why I added language to the FY11 Continuing Resolution instructing the Fish and Wildlife Service to reissue their 2009 determination to delist wolves in states with approved management plans in place. This language, which received bipartisan support in the House and Senate and from the Administration, returns management of wolf populations in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Utah to the states, and it allows for approved wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana this year. The language also allows negotiations between the State of Wyoming and the Department of Interior to continue so that the entire population can be delisted. The ruling went back into effect within 60 days after the FY11 CR was signed into law, and on May 4, 2011, the Department of Interior announced the delisting of wolves in Idaho and Montana. I was very pleased that, after continued discussions between state of Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding wolf management in Wyoming, FWS declared Wyoming gray wolves recovered under the ESA. As of September 30, 2012, management authority belongs to the State of Wyoming.
In cases like this, it has become clear that Congress must clarify its intent so that policy can be implemented appropriately, and I am glad to see Congress confirm the original intent of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by moving to return to state control the management of a species that has met and surpassed even the most optimistic recovery goals. It has also become clear that those who continue to persist in keeping the wolf on the endangered species list in spite of all the evidence that this species has recovered are beginning to realize that their position is not defensible.
The recovery of the gray wolf should be considered a success under the ESA, and I am bothered that some people persist in perceiving that the end goal in this process is to simply keep wolves on the endangered species list instead of recover the species so that it can be properly managed. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is well prepared to manage this species through legalized hunts and other forms of predator control, and I believe it would be wise to leave this issue in the hands of the state.