Don Barry, Executive Vice President
As toxic partisan politics in Congress continue to keep the federal government shut down, a remarkable bipartisan thing happened last Monday evening in Washington, D.C. during the public hearing that the Fish and Wildlife Service held on its terrible proposal to delist gray wolves throughout most of the lower 48 states. Jamie Clark, the president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, presented testimony, petitions and letters on behalf of the organization’s more than one million members and supporters in strong opposition to the proposal. I also had the privilege of reading a letter of equally strong opposition into the record at the hearing on behalf of myself and two other notable long-time conservationists, Nathaniel Reed and George Frampton.
Two things bound the three of us together on that letter. First, we each had had the honor and privilege of serving as the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks for the Department of the Interior, in both Republican and Democratic administrations, during critical periods in the history of the enactment and implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Nathaniel Reed played a crucial role in the enactment of the ESA during his service in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and George Frampton and I served under Secretary Bruce Babbitt in the Clinton administration during the period when gray wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone and Mexican gray wolves were reintroduced into the Southwest. During our 15 combined years of service overseeing the programs and policies of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we were staunch advocates for conserving the imperiled species of this country and in implementing the ESA faithfully and effectively.
The second thing that bound us together on that letter was our strong conviction that the Service’s gray wolf delisting proposal was premature, ill-advised, and was based upon a shrunken vision of what full recovery should mean for this important apex predator. For decades, the Service’s vision and interpretation of what recovery meant for endangered and threatened species had been optimistic and biologically ambitious. The recovery of the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, American alligator and brown pelican are true recovery success stories under the ESA, but in each of those cases, the Service did not remove protection under the act until those species had once again recolonized suitable habitat throughout most of their historic ranges. That is the way that the ESA is supposed to work.
By contrast, however, we pointed out that the Service was now proposing to wash its hands of wolves prematurely, leaving huge swaths of unoccupied suitable wolf habitat in Colorado, Utah, California and western Oregon and Washington. It was also our view that the fact that wolves were abundant in Canada was irrelevant, since the purpose of the ESA, first and foremost, was to preserve biological diversity within this country.
Working with both Nathaniel and George on this letter was a reminder to me that all of our major environmental laws were enacted years ago with overwhelming Republican and Democratic support. Nathaniel Reed in particular, epitomizes the strong historic environmental record of the Republican Party in years gone by. The irony of all of this was not lost on me last Monday evening, as I was reading our bipartisan letter of opposition to gray wolf delisting just hours before the federal government began shutting down. It was a poignant reminder of how badly our country needs to return to the political environment in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s when Republicans like Nathaniel Reed could work arm in arm with Democrats like Rep. John Dingell (Mich.) on a common environmental vision for something much better for this country. In this regard, the Service’s shrunken vision for wolf recovery is merely a reflection of the larger shrunken vision of political civility and bipartisan compromise that once was the hallmark of this country. At least with our letter, that spirit of political civility and bipartisan compromise was still alive.