Wolf, © Richard Seeley / National Geographic Stock

Mission Forgotten

Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO

When federal wolf recovery efforts began more than 25 years ago, I had very high hopes. I was working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered species biologist at the time and remember thinking what an incredibly ambitious and inspiring project it was.

Jamie Rappaport Clark

Defenders’ president and CEO, Jamie Rappaport Clark

A decade later, I was honored to release three Mexican gray wolves into Arizona’s Apache National Forest as director of the Service. I’ll never forget looking into the crate and seeing in the wolf’s eyes the fierce green fire that inspired Aldo Leopold to develop his famous land ethic. Carrying those wolves into their new wild home, I felt a deep connection with both the animals and the great conservation leaders who came before me. It was thrilling to think that someday gray wolves would thrive once again across much of the West — a direct result of our collective efforts to bring them back.

Restoring a native predator to the American landscape represented a grand vision for the future of wildlife conservation. Not only was the federal government fighting to save imperiled species from extinction, it was also working hard to reintroduce animals that had been ruthlessly and foolishly eliminated decades earlier. I could think of no nobler and more worthy set of conservation values than those set forth in the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Fast forward to today. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced recently that it plans to prematurely delist wolves under the ESA and abandon their restoration efforts for gray wolves everywhere except for the Southwest. With wolves struggling to gain a toehold in the Northwest and still nonexistent in places with excellent suitable habitat like California, Utah and Colorado, the federal government is giving up on the dream of full gray wolf recovery. Put simply, they are quitting before their work is done.

0462_wenaha_male_wolfwm copySome 5,000 wolves currently inhabit six states in the lower 48. This is a marked improvement since the late ’80s when there were only a few hundred left in northern Minnesota. Yet, the reality is that the recovery of the species throughout key areas in the West remains as uncertain as ever. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have already started to drive their wolf populations down. Anti-wolf legislation has cropped up in Oregon and Washington, where there are presently only about 100 wolves. Utah’s legislature passed a bill several years ago banning wolves altogether. And without continued federal protection, we’re as likely to see sustainable populations of unicorns in five years in Colorado and California as we are to see sustainable populations of wolves.

By walking off the job before the task is done, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is redefining what it means to recover imperiled species…and not in a good way. The agency has adopted a shrunken vision of what wolf conservation is all about, failing to stick with the program until full recovery is achieved. We didn’t take this easy way out in recovering the bald eagle or the American alligator, and we shouldn’t do it now for wolves.

But this isn’t just about wolves or eagles. Sadly, what’s happening with wolves could become the new normal for federal endangered species recovery work nationwide. The premature national wolf delisting proposal signals a major shift in the conservation vision and philosophy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Optimism seems to be disappearing, and settling for second best seems to be settling in.

Wolf recovery was on the path to become one of our nation’s greatest conservation successes, but now that success is threatened because the federal government wants to wash its hands of the wolf. It’s a disappointing, far cry from the vision and boldness — the commitment to conserving our wildlife and natural resources — that used to characterize our nation’s stewardship goals.

Originally published in The Huffington Post

10 Responses to “Mission Forgotten”

  1. ginachron

    From here in Britain we watch the television programmes showing your wildlife with great envy, following your wolf, bear, mustang and mountain lion. It is hard to understand how your nation can abandon the wolf to persecution once more from those who would happily see it vanish. The wolf will go the way of the tribal nations. For shame.

  2. Adele Nguyen

    Jamie, this is a powerful and well-stated message — too bad no one’s listening! Your heart must be breaking, personally and professionally, after the effort you’ve put in, to come to this….

  3. Judy Flanagan

    “The human race has the responsibility to be the caretakers of Mother Earth and All Inhabitants.” Judy Flanagan
    The one thing we must all do is send emails, sign all petitions, and keep after the lawmakers to put a halt to harm to our wildlife and ocean life.

  4. Tracy Swenson

    I’m sick heart broken angry, so more I can do to help save them please call in

  5. Deirdte Cochran

    STOP finding loopholes to eliminate the Wolf. WW

  6. Lee Rockwell

    Dear Jamie… I hope this gets to you! I am a longtime member & supporter of Defenders. With the help of another wolf advocate, Teresa Hamilton, I have written a song for OR-7 aka Journey. It is our fondest dream that it helps the wolves to live! We will offer the use of it to an organization who will guarantee that any proceeds from it go towards saving the wolves. Please listen and get in touch if you have any ideas… Thank you for all the wonderful work you have done & continue to do!!! Sincerely, Lee Rockwell For all wolves and those who love them: https://soundcloud.com/lee-rockwell/journey or Teresa’s https://soundcloud.com/ladymoonwolf/journey

  7. Jill Morse

    Sadly, you have been talking about this for a very long time, but I have yet to see any action taken by Defender of Wildlife to resolve the problem.
    What happened to the court action you were going to take? You keep asking for contributions, but your plan of attack is sadly missing! How it has reached the point where they are about to be de-listed is beyond me, when you have supposedly been on their watch all along! This is uncalled for.

    • Defenders of Wildlife

      Hi Jill,
      You’re right, we have been talking about this for a long time. Protecting wolves is a fight we have been in from the beginning.
      We did take court action to fight the delisting in Wyoming – like all litigation, it’s moving slowly, but rest assured we’re still on the case, and in the meantime we’re working hard to spread tolerance for wolves across the region by educating people about these animals and by working with ranchers to show them it is possible for livestock and predators to coexist.
      For the larger delisting across the lower 48 states, we can’t challenge it legally until the official decision is made, and we’re hoping to keep it from getting to that point. Right now, this is a proposal. With enough of us working together, we may be able to keep it from becoming anything more than that. But if the decision is made to move forward with it, we will fight that decision in court if it comes to that.
      In addition, we’re working on organizing wolf supporters like yourself to get involved in the process. The FWS is legally obligated to hold a public comment period on the proposal, and we’re getting the word out to all those who support wildlife, and wolves in particular, to speak out against this decision. You can find details on how to submit your comments, as well as other ways to make your voice heard, at http://www.defenders.org/savewolves
      And in the coming weeks and months, the FWS will be holding public hearings on this proposal. We’re talking to wildlife biologists, conservationists and activists on the ground to get ready for these hearings so that at each one, those who want to stand up for wolves will be given the tools to do so.
      These are just some of the ways we’re working to fight this premature and reckless delisting proposal, and we encourage you to stay tuned for updates as we continue to bring new opportunities for you and other advocates to get involved.

  8. Marion Hitzenhammer

    I want to live in a world where wolves, and the wilderness they need to survive, can thrive. America’s ranchers and farmers can co-exist with the gray wolf, but your government has decided it easier to kill these majestic animals.

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