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    Idaho sends a message: It's fine to shoot wolves

    The federal government tried to lift protections, but environmentalists won a court victory. Now, the governor of Idaho is taking a different approach.

    A gray wolf in Grand Teton National Park

    A gray wolf in Grand Teton National Park National Park Service

    If the federal courts won't let Idaho citizens hunt gray wolves legally, the state certainly won't expend any money or effort to keep people from hunting them illegally.

    That was basically what Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter told the feds and the electorate in mid-October. History will show that this program (of wolf management under the federal Endangered Species Act) was a tragic example of oppressive, ham-handed 'conservation' at its worst," Otter wrote. "Idahoans have suffered this intolerable situation for too long, but starting today at least the state no longer will be complicit."

    Shot, trapped, and poisoned for generations, the gray wolf was listed as endangered in all the Lower 48 states except Minnesota in 1967.. (In Minnesota, it was listed as threatened.) Last year, the federal government delisted wolves in the northern Rockies, including Montana and Idaho, both of which promptly opened hunting seasons for them. (In Washington, the Diamond pack, east of Highway 97, was delisted. The Lookout pack, west of the highway, was not.) A coalition of national and regional conservation groups asked a federal court to vacate the delisting rule and tried and failed to get the court to enjoin the hunts.

    But this August, in a suit brought by a coalition of national and regional conservation groups, a U.S. District Court in Missoula vacated the delisting order, meaning that the federal government would have to continue protections. The ruling also led to the cancelation of the planned public hunts in Montana and Idaho. The government hasn't yet decided whether or not it will appeal the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

    The decision didn't deal with the merits of delisting. The plaintiffs had argued that the population size was too small, the genetic connectivity with other populations too tenuous for the wolves to qualify as recovered. Those arguments may ultiimately come into play. But the court found that whatever their merit, the law wouldn't let the Fish and Wildlife Service delist the wolf in two states out of three.

    Calling the dispute “Talmudic,” U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy wrote that the "Endangered Species Act does not allow the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list only part of a 'species' as endangered, or to protect a listed distinct population segment only in part as the Final Rule here does. . . (T)he legislative history of the Endangered Species Act . . . supports the historical view that the service has always held, the Endangered Species Act does not allow a distinct population segment to be subdivided.”

    Whether or not Idaho was capable of managing its own wolf population didn't matter; Idaho couldn't go it alone. “The record in this case implies that the service tried to find a pragmatic solution to the legal problem raised by the inadequacy of Wyoming's regulatory mechanisms, and Wyoming's choices about meaningful participation in a collective delisting agreement like that engaged in by Montana and Idaho. Even if the service's solution is pragmatic, or even practical, it is at its heart a political solution that does not comply with the ESA. The northern Rocky Mountain DPS must be listed, or delisted, as a distinct population and protected accordingly.”

    But protected by whom?

    The feds have formally taken over, but they clearly don't want to do it. They have, after all, been trying to delist wolves in the northern Rockies so that they don't have to. They have responded to pressure from the states, within which some ranchers and hunters would like to see more wolves in their gun sights and a lot of people would like to see less regulation by the feds. Some observers also assume Fish and Wildlife officials have acted partly from a desire to have a success story: If the wolves have recovered, the system works.

    The government initially tried to delist all wolves in the northern Rockies, including the main populations in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. All three states had drawn up management plans. Wyoming's was clearly inadequate. Conservationists got an injunction against delisting, and the government — abandoning an obvious losing hand — asked for and got a voluntary remand so that it could revise the proposal. When the feds tried again, they left Wyoming's wolf population on the protected list. This decision had, clearly owed a lot more to politics than to science. Molloy said last year that the plaintiffs would probably win.

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    Posted Thu, Nov 4, 5:51 a.m. Inappropriate

    "But this August, in a suit brought by a coalition of national and regional conservation groups, a U.S. District Court in Missoula vacated the delisting order, meaning that the federal government would have to continue protections."

    "Even without delisting, the feds had outsourced the day-to-day work of wolf protection to the state."

    "The state assumed those responsibilities. But it didn't have to. There's no law to prevent it from backing out."

    And here, in one fell swoop, we have the answer to state budget deficits AND the exponential growth of federal regulation: make the feds eat their own vegetables. State governments (when the money was high and there was enough for every state bureaucrat who wanted their own program) opted in to MANY co-administrations of federal programs. The ESA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, etcetera. These are all, legally, the responsibility of federal agencies (the ESA is the purview of NOAA and USFWS, for example). And, as the article points out, "the state assumed those responsibilities. They didn't have to. There's no law preventing it from backing out".

    And with the current situation, that is , exactly what cash-strapped states ought to do: back out. Keep state money for the priorities of state citizens. Let the feds administer (and pay for) their own programs (no, this would not mean Clean Air, Clean Water, etc. would "go away"). As Washington State wrestles with its $4.5 Billion shortfall, citizens should demand that optional co-administration of federal programs (which, by the way ALWAYS grow) are some of the first things on the chopping block. Our Governor, after witnessing the defeat of a slew of tax proposals (and before boarding a jet for her latest junket to Germany) said she has no plan, now, on how to move forward. Here is one.


    Posted Thu, Nov 4, 2:31 p.m. Inappropriate


    The Feds do pay the states for any ESA-related duties delegated to them - big time! Washington gets million$ of dollar$ for E$A-related work. So does virtualy every other state. That is often a lingering cause of state reluctance to delist: the listing goes away, so does the money.

    That is why Wyoming opted out of writing a workable wolf management plan (which started the whole cascade of events resulting in Malloy's ruling). They couldn't afford to have both the Yellowstone grizzly bear and the wolf delisted, with resultant impacts to state wildlife agency budgets in such a short time. And nobody in either Wyoming or Idaho ever lost votes whacking on a Fed.

    Idaho is playing local politics, covering the habitat-related results of timber harvest decisions on local elk populations and the outfitting industry made decades ago by pointing at the conveniently-(and Federally)-provided wolf as the culprit in elk declines that were actually projected before the wolf ever came south of the Canadian line. Idaho's own biologists projected those declines in official reports decades ago. They're public record.

    But blaming the wolf is easier to undertand and better politics.

    And, no, I'm not a wolf lover. I'm a fact lover. Check it out, you might like it.


    Posted Thu, Nov 4, 2:53 p.m. Inappropriate

    So, you've posited another reason why state co-management of the ESA should be scrapped. Millions towards a duplicative layer of bureaucracy. Disincentive to actually recover (money goes away).

    I'll admit I don't know the political intrigues of the Idaho wolf drama.

    I do know this: as regards the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA has found that "historically, states on the average have contributed around 65 percent of the costs of running the federal drinking water program while the federal government has contributed 35 percent".

    I think there is a lot of money to be found in telling the feds to administer, and pay for, their own programs.

    You had a decent post until the "fact lover. Check it out, you might like it" line. I wonder why you felt compelled to throw in a disparaging quip. Because I might have a different view than you?


    Posted Sat, Nov 6, 1:19 p.m. Inappropriate

    Did a road trip through eight of the western states this summer. Signs along the roads in Washington, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, California,and Oregon read "Wildlife Crossing." In Idaho they read "Game Crossing." Says it all.

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