Not all endangered species are created equal. And few have Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., a former University of Washington football player, blocking for them.
Dicks has put on the fast track the campaign to bring the northern gray wolf back to Olympic National Park, with the House expected to include $300,000 for a feasibility study when it votes on the budget this week.
Funding for a wolf study, which Dicks’ office says eventually could cost about $1 million over the next three years, is barely pocket change for most government programs.
But dollars for actual species-recovery work - outside of high-profile cases such as salmon and the spotted owl - can be as scarce as the creatures themselves: In this year’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service budget, the Western Washington field office received no money for recovery work, according to officials in the office.
When it comes to saving an endangered species, the story of the Olympic wolves is a lesson in how one influential and eager congressman in your corner often is worth a laboratory full of scientists.
Reintroduction of wolves to the Olympics wasn’t a high priority among federal agencies or many Northwest wolf advocates until Dicks, urged on by Defenders of Wildlife, an East Coast-based conservation group, got excited about it.
“Wolves in the Olympics haven’t been our priority,” said Jim Michaels, endangered-species coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Western Washington field office. “But dollars certainly are very scarce and competitive for this stuff. If you’ve got a congressman who is interested, you’d better snag the chance.”
Indeed, Dicks’ patronage of wolves in the Olympics stands in contrast to the fate of recovery plans for their brethren in North Cascades National Park.
Biologists say gray wolves, migrating from Canada, have begun to repopulate the Cascades in small numbers during the past decade. But in 1994, the Fish and Wildlife Service cut the roughly $200,000 being spent annually on recovery efforts for wolves and grizzly bears in the North Cascades, diverting the money to programs in Idaho.
The agency never has written a recovery plan for wolves in the Cascades. There is little monitoring of wolf packs or counting of the wolves that have returned to the Cascades, Michaels says.
Some biologists say recovery of wolf populations in the Cascades would pay bigger dividends toward ensuring the species’ survival in North America than reintroducing wolves to the Olympics.
And federal officials didn’t include the Olympics as part of a nationwide wolf-recovery plan.
Ed Bangs, head of wolf recovery for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency’s priority is restoring wolves to large land areas where they can link up with existing populations. But the Olympic Peninsula, as wolf habitat, is virtually an island, and restoration of wolf populations there requires direct human intervention.
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