Bill Would Strip Wolves of ESA Protection Forever

Eight members of Congress have introduced a bill called the State Sovereignty Wildlife Management Act. The sole purpose of HR 6485 is to render any listing of wolves as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act legally irrelevant. While I have no reason to assume this bill will pass, the fact that officials elected to national office could propose such a thing underscores much of what’s wrong with, well, with everything.

Wolves are not a threat to people. In the history of the United States, there has never been a fatal wolf attack on a human. They do, however, sometimes eat livestock. Since their reintroduction into the Northern Rockies (emphasis on re- introduction because they used to live there until we exterminated them), ranchers have whined because they occasionally lose animals to wolves. Rather than treat this as a cost of doing business, ranchers argue that the wolves’ existence constitutes an unwelcome intrusion into the natural order of things. This despite the fact that the wolves used to inhabit the region in far greater numbers than the 1700 or so that currently exist there and that ranching (and the factory farming that it supports) has caused widespread damage to the region’s ecosystem.

Others complain about wolves preying on elk because it makes hunting (by humans) more challenging. Let’s think about that for a moment. First, there is no shortage of elk in the Northern Rockies. Second, wolves, as an alpha predator, help to control the herd in the way that is both natural and ecologically beneficial. Yet hunters complain that the wolves, who hunt without the benefit of anything except their bodies and who need the elk to survive, make it too hard (and consequently less fun) for recreational hunters to shoot the elk with high-powered rifles.

Then we have the recent court decision finding that Endangered Species Act requires that the wolf population be managed as an integrated whole rather than in a state-by state hodgepodge. Sensible though this might seem, it nonetheless has added to the outrage. Compounded by the entrenched bias against wolves that has existed since time immemorial, these complaints trigger unfortunate legislation such as HR 6485.

But the problem is not just with this bill and this animal. It has to do with rampant indifference to anthropogenic impacts on the natural world and a willingness to sacrifice animals, climate, ecosystems, oceans and most anything else for short-term human gain. The Endangered Species Act was and is one of the few outwardly directed laws ever enacted in this country. It explicitly subordinates human activity to the preservation of threatened and endangered species and their habitat. And that generosity of spirit has endangered the law itself almost from the moment of its passage.

We like to believe that society is evolving and becoming more sensitive to humanity’s role within the biosphere. We would like also to believe that lawmakers will respond to the increasingly urgent need to protect our threatened patrimony and strengthen rather than gut our environmental legal regime. But, sadly, neither belief seems accurate.

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