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Proposed Rule to Stop Protecting Gray Wolves Sets Dangerous Precedent, Researchers Warn

Dec 30, 2013 02:17 PM EST
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The Obama administration's proposal to bump the gray wolf off the federal endangered species list could lead to the endangerment of other species, according to researchers who warn that, if passed the way it is currently written, the rule would set a dangerous precedent.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to detail what the threats are and if they're substantial enough, they're supposed to list a species and put in place policies to mitigate the threats," said Jeremy Bruskotter, associate professor in The Ohio State University's School of Environment and Natural Resources and lead author of the paper published in the journal Conservation Letters.

Passed in 1973, the Endangered Species Act states that in order for a species to be considered recovered, the FWS must declare it no longer endangered in all or a "significant portion of its range." And while the gray wolf has recovered in the northern Rockies and upper Great Lakes, the same cannot be said of the other 85 percent of the animal's historic range, which once stretched from coast to coast.

"So what the service is saying is that wolves are going to be called recovered in most of the United States despite the fact that very few wolves live outside these two recovered areas," Bruskotter said. "Wherever they are now, that's their range - which means taking the historic and geographic component out of the listing process."

Besides disregarding the law, the proposed rule "specifically creates incentive to destroy habitat in advance of a listing and do things that aren't good for endangered species," Bruskotter said. 

The researcher acknowledges the FWS is currently facing great pressure from hunters and livestock producers on one side, and wildlife advocates on the other. But even this is not a reason for it to circumvent the law, he argues.

"The law is supposed to help the protected species, not just describe the threats to that species. But to construct this delisting rule, they've had to interpret policy and science in every case in a way that either disregards threats to wolves, or treats them as insurmountable," he said. "They're doing the opposite of what the act requires."

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