"As the debate about the Endangered Species Act rages in Congress and around the country, the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that a decision to list or delist a species should be based on science, not on politics. I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, the ESA, which was originally enacted in a successful effort to save the iconic bald eagle from extinction, has been hijacked by those whose goal is not to recover species but to control public land and water. As a result, wildlife and land management decisions that should be made by biologists at the Department of Interior have instead been forced into the courts where judges are making public land management policies. The Endangered Species Act has become so highly contentious, political, and litigious that it has become a policy failure.
"If we want the ESA to work, wildlife managers need to be able to delist recovered species. Hunters, fishermen, ranchers, and landowners play an integral role in conservation, but they don't feel empowered to participate when advocates force decisions to be made in court.
"Wolves are a case in point. The Northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) wolf population has, by all reasonable counts, fully recovered, vastly surpassing even the most optimistic recovery goals. The population has grown so large it has spilled out of its original recovery area, with wolf packs showing up in Oregon, Washington, and Utah. Recognizing a recovered species when they saw one, the Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the NRM wolf population in states with approved management plans in 2009. Yet in spite of it being clear that wolves would continue to flourish, activitists went to court to force them back onto the list in 2010.
"Keeping a strongly recovered wolf population on the endangered species list is in no one's best interest except those who benefit from ongoing litigation. On the other hand, providing a long-term solution to the management of these animals serves the interest of the states, the federal agencies, ranchers and hunters, and those whose true goal is sustainable wildlife populations in the Rocky Mountain West. I included language in the fiscal year 2011 budget bill instructing the Fish and Wildlife Service to reissue their delisting rule in an effort to bring the ESA back in line with what Congress originally intended.
"The recovery of the gray wolf should be considered a success under the ESA. What the debate about wolf delisting has revealed is that some groups will persist in keeping species like wolves listed in spite of all the evidence that they are recovered, proving that their end goal is not to recover species but to usurp the public process by forcing land and water management decisions to be made in court, not by Congress.
"Hunters and fishermen are strong advocates for protecting our public lands and preserving wildlife, but they are not fooled by groups that claim to share their interests but instead make a living suing the government in an effort to keep fully-recovered species listed. We desperately need to reform the Endangered Species Act so that it encourages key partners to participate in the work of preserving and recovering species and making reasonable, science-based decisions regarding wildlife management. As hunting season gets underway in Idaho and the wolf hunt is finally reinstated, Idahoans know that the state is more than prepared to manage our wolf population."