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Delisting is progress

The Spokesman-Review

Normally, an achievement on the scale of gray wolf restoration in the Northern Rockies would be cause for celebration.

In a little more than a decade, the fabled animals have come from zero in that region to about 1,500, and they are about to be taken off the endangered species list. A success like that calls for a toast, right?

Holster your corkscrews.

A collection of environmental and animal-rights organizations intend to sue to prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department from delisting the species. Meanwhile, the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition is pushing for a vote on eradicating wolves from the state altogether. When Alexandre Dumas said, “Nothing succeeds like success,” he was underestimating extremists’ capacity for shortsightedness.

As Ed Bangs, gray wolf recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service, noted in an interview with U.S. News & World Report, it was the federal government that wiped out the nation’s wolves in the first place. The last pups were killed in 1924 as a matter of policy.

So it was fitting that it took the federal Endangered Species Act to bring the animals back, starting with 66 transported Canadian wolves that were released in Yellowstone Park and Idaho in the mid-1990s.

Now the gray wolf populations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have reached a point that wildlife managers consider viable, making it approptiate to allow wolf-hunting seasons that will keep the prolific animals from overpopulating the region.

Without some kind of control, the wolves’ numbers would grow about 20 percent annually – or 300 more wolves in the coming year. Unchecked, that kind of increase would lead inevitably to the ecological pressures that would legitimize fears over the threat to elk and deer herds and private livestock.

But overhunting, not to mention the Anti-Wolf Coalition’s fanatical goals, would put the gray wolves back on the Endangered Species List, and the process would start all over again.

As it is, Idaho wildlife officials intend to keep the population of wolves in that state somewhere between 518 and the current level, an estimated 730. That’s well above the 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs that would prompt federal overseers to consider a relisting.

Spokespeople for Washington, D.C.-based Defenders of Wildlife, predict that plans to delist the wolf in March will lead to a precipitous decline and the wolf’s quick return to its previous protected status.

That’s an attitude designed to perpetuate a contentious tug of war, and reasonable Idahoans should reject it.

The wolf holds a symbolic position in the history of the West, and recovery manager Bangs says that’s one of the reasons to preserve a reasonable population.

Anti-wolf zealots are not likely to give up their futile cause. Responsible environmentalists have an opportunity to claim the high ground by seizing this development as evidence that the Endangered Species Act works. They can gain more that way than through litigation.

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