By Reece Alvarez
The Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) fights all kinds of dangers that threaten its mission of protecting America’s wolves. The South Salem organization recently claimed a small victory against one of those dangers, when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s bid to remove the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List was temporarily halted.
Last June the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) declared it had accomplished its mission of recovering the endangered wolf species across a significant portion of its original habitat, which includes much of the United States outside of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic.
To remove a species from the endangered list, the USFWS is required to have its proposals reviewed by an independent panel of scientists.
Earlier this month USFWS released the peer review, which included sharp criticisms of the proposal and asserted that the basis on which the USFWS sought to de-list the gray wolf was not supported by the best science available. The report also refutes the USFWS’s claim that the gray wolf is not native to the northeastern United States.
“There is no evidence that shows the Northeast was not a part of the historic range of gray wolves,” said Maggie Howell, executive director of the WCC. “That enables the Northeast to maybe one day down the line welcome gray wolves into the vast habitat that has been screaming for a predator like the wolf for some time.”
The attempt to de-list the gray wolf becomes more complicated, as the peer review revealed that the “scheme” by which USFWS tried to do so was based largely on a reclassification of Northeastern wolf species by scientists employed by the USFWS.
Based in part on preliminary conclusions from a single 2012 paper written by biologists employed by the USFWS, the USFWS contended that the eastern half of the United States was occupied by Canis lycaon, or the “eastern wolf,” a distinct species of wolf that does not belong to the gray wolf species Canis lupus, according to the WCC.
The WCC is home to 22 wolves, including 17 Mexican gray wolves, and much of its efforts involve supporting initiatives and legislation that help protect wolf populations throughout the country. Since the USFWS announced its plan to de-list gray wolves, the WCC has been building opposition to the proposal, including urging people to submit comments to the USFWS. The USFWS has received more than a million comments on the issue, a record for any de-listing proposal, Ms. Howell said.
Representatives from the WCC even showed up in Albuquerque and Washington, D.C., to testify on behalf of WCC’s gray wolves and their estimated 6,000 relatives across the continental U.S.
Wild wolves will never call Westchester County home, but portions of northern New York and the Northeast are suitable for wolf habitation, if the species has the opportunity to expand, Ms. Howell said. Gray wolves were once common throughout the United States, but by the early 20th Century had been all but eradicated from the wild.
Once numbering approximately 2 million, the wolf population has rebounded thanks to conservation efforts, and is now estimated to be between 7,000 and 12,000 strong and increasingly present in such states as Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
“Wolves are a critical keystone species in a healthy ecosystem. By regulating prey populations, wolves enable many other species of plants and animals to flourish. In this regard, wolves ‘touch’ songbirds, beaver, fish, and butterflies. Without predators, such as wolves, the system fails to support a natural level of biodiversity,” said Ms. Howell, who also shared a quote by the 20th-Century environmentalist Aldo Leopold.
“I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades.”
In light of the peer review, the USFWS has reopened the comment period on its proposal to de-list the gray wolf from the endangered species list for a period of 45 days that began Feb. 10.
Information regarding the peer review and the USFWS proposal, as well as how to submit comments, may be found here.