| Protect Alaskan wolves from |
inhumane aerial slaughter.
The state of Alaska is continuing its war on wildlife -- by trying to kill wolves from helicopters. Remote Unimak Island, in Alaska's Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, is home to the Aleutian Island chain’s only naturally occurring populations of brown bears, wolves and caribou. Caribou numbers on the island have varied drastically over the past 100 years and have recently plummeted.
Despite the fact that there is no evidence that wolves are responsible for the recent drop in caribou numbers -- which is just as likely related in part to unsustainable state-permitted trophy hunting of caribou on the island -- the state is using the drop in numbers as an excuse to kill wolves in the name of "wildlife management."
Nearly all of Unimak Island is federally designated wilderness area. A state-run and federally permitted aerial hunt in a wilderness area is unprecedented. Federal biologists admit that very little is known about either the caribou herd or the wolves on Unimak Island. It would be the height of irresponsibility to blindly massacre the wolves in the face of so much uncertainty.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency within the Department of the Interior that manages the refuge, initially refused to allow the aerial wolf hunt but now appears to be caving to state pressure. The Service has completed an environmental assessment that concludes that the state’s proposal for “predator control management on the Refuge is necessary.”
The Service is accepting comments on its environmental assessment until Jan. 31. Please act now to tell the agency it must not allow the massacre of wolves on this federal refuge and wilderness area.
RESTORING THE GRAY WOLF
Few animals evoke the wild like wolves. Majestic, rangy and highly social, wolves also play a crucial role in driving evolution and calibrating nature’s complex set of relationships.
Once — before bounties, a federal extermination program and expansive human settlement — wolves freely roamed most of the United States. Scientists estimate there were once some 2 million wolves in North America.
By the 1960s, when wolves were finally protected under a precursor to the Endangered Species Act, they had been exterminated from all of the conterminous United States except tiny portions of Minnesota and Michigan — victims of an unwillingness, primarily on the part of the livestock industry, to coexist with a predator so wild and complex and uncontrolled.
Protection under the Endangered Species Act has aided wolves tremendously. In the Great Lakes, wolves have grown in numbers in Minnesota and expanded their range to Wisconsin and Michigan. In the northern Rocky Mountains, a combination of natural migration from Canada and reintroduction has created a robust population of wolves in Idaho, Montana and a portion of Wyoming that’s beginning to spread to Washington, Oregon and other states. In the Southwest, just seven surviving Mexican gray wolves were saved and bred in captivity; some of their progeny were reintroduced and are struggling to survive against lethal livestock industry opposition and government mismanagement.
Although there have been substantial gains, the job of wolf recovery is far from over. A mere 5,000 to 6,000 wolves occupy only about 5 percent of the animals’ historic range. Establishing wolf populations throughout much of the country — and corridors for individuals to travel back and forth — will not only increase wolf numbers but will also allow for necessary genetic exchange.
But the federal government has never applied a much-needed national perspective on wolf restoration. Instead, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relies on outdated, decades-old recovery plans that view restoration as a piecemeal project — aiding a few wolf populations here and there — and underestimate how many wolves are needed for true recovery. (The plan for northern Rockies wolves, for example, calls for a population of just 30 breeding pairs spread between three populations.) Far from encouraging recovery across the gray wolf’s former range, the federal government has been trying to lift protections for wolf populations that aren’t yet at a level ensuring their long-term survival, and Wyoming, Idaho and Montana are all pursuing permission to dramatically slash their wolf populations to seriously unhealthy levels.
That’s why, in 2010, the Center filed a petition and notice of intent to sue to compel the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a national recovery plan for wolves. The plan would provide a much-needed roadmap for establishing wolf populations in suitable habitat in the southern Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, California, the Great Basin, the Great Plains and New England.
We’ve learned much more about wolves’ behavior, ecology and needs since the original wolf recovery plans were written. We know, for example, that returning wolves to ecosystems sets off a chain of events that benefits many species, including songbirds and beavers that gain from a return of streamside vegetation — which thrives in the absence of browsing elk that must move more often to avoid wolves — and pronghorn and foxes that are aided by wolves’ control of coyote populations.
Our petition should spark a new national conversation about finishing the job of wolf restoration in a way that identifies suitable habitat, considers connectivity between populations, and gives this vital animal a chance to survive and thrive.
THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT
The people of the United States have one of the world's most powerful and successful legal tools for protecting species at risk of extinction: the Endangered Species Act, or ESA. Passed by Congress in 1973 on the heels of a precursor law from 1967, the Act is the best and possibly the last chance Americans have of securing a future for diverse native wildlife and the natural environments that wildlife depends on. The Act’s vital citizen-suit and critical-habitat provisions give it its “teeth”: the former allows public-interest groups and individuals to petition and sue the government to make sure the Act protects species as it was intended to, while the latter provides a crucial tool through direct legal protection of lands or waters that species need to survive and recover.
Although the ESA functions by protecting individual species or subspecies on a case-by-case basis — in recent years, almost exclusively in response to citizen suits — at its best, the Act provides landscape-level protection for complements of species and the ecosystems in which those species play integral roles. To date, the Act has helped the American bald eagle, black-footed ferret, gray whale, peregrine falcon, and spotted owl, among hundreds of others whose status has improved dramatically under its protection.
About 1,370 species are listed as endangered or threatened in the United States, but there remain more than 250 candidate species languishing in the Act’s bureaucratic “waiting room” in urgent need of protection.
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