As part of its budget bill, Congress approved a brief rider, 11 lines long, that removes gray wolves in Idaho and Montana from the protections of the Endangered Species Act. The rider overturns a recent court ruling, prohibits further judicial review and cannot be good for the wolf. But the worst part is that it sets a terrible precedent — allowing Congress to decide the fate of animals on the list.
The law’s purpose is to base protections on science. Now that politics has been allowed to trump science when it comes to the gray wolf, which species will be next?
The rider’s sponsors, Senator Jon Tester of Montana and Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho, were responding to the demands of ranchers, who sometimes lose livestock to wolves, and hunters, who complain that wolves reduce deer and elk populations.
Sadly and surprisingly, they were abetted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who declared last month that he would accept what he called a “legislative solution” to the status of the wolf in the Rocky Mountains. One Interior Department official has argued that without this concession, the rider might well have been far more radical — possibly removing wolves everywhere from protection.
The wolf has been a subject of litigation ever since it was reintroduced in the mid-1990s. One of Mr. Salazar’s first acts as secretary was to de-list the animal in Idaho and Montana, arguing that populations had recovered and that the states could now manage them. A federal judge overturned his ruling, as well as a compromise plan that Mr. Salazar worked out with environmental groups.
Idaho and Montana plan to allow controlled hunts. The best hope for the wolves is that the states adhere to their management plans and not let the hunts get out of control. The courts can only stand by, but the Interior Department must hold the states to the terms of a five-year review process required by their management plans.
As for Mr. Salazar, he has made it harder to uphold the integrity of a law that has withstood attacks from industry, ranchers, real estate developers and their political allies. Other protected species like the grizzly bear could now face their own “legislative solution.” For the sake of his own reputation as a conservationist, Mr. Salazar has to hope that Congress’s meddling stops with the wolves.