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The Emotional Management of "Endangered" Species

July 2020
Author: SCI

Gray wolves and grizzly bears are two of the most beloved, hated, and debated wildlife species in the United States. Both historically roamed most of North America, but by the early/mid-1900s, they were extirpated throughout much of their native range. Due to the loss of habitat and precipitously declining populations in the lower 48, both species were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the 1970s. Since then, they have made remarkable recoveries and represent two of the greatest conservation comebacks in American history.
Rather than celebrating this success, their status is often engulfed in controversy and efforts to remove them from the ESA lists are appealed in endless lawsuits.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has reaffirmed the recoveries by separately proposing to remove gray wolves and specific grizzly bear populations from the ESA multiple times. Unfortunately, each proposal has been consumed by emotion-based pushback and endless lawsuits from those hoping to keep the species listed. Public opposition mainly focuses on the return of these species to management by state fish and wildlife agencies, who could (or would in some cases) implement hunting as a management tool.

For more than 15 years, SCI has gone to court to advocate for state management of wolves. SCI has defended the FWS’s delisting of the Northern Rocky Mountain wolves, Western Great Lakes wolves, and Wyoming’s wolves in numerous cases. Similarly, SCI’s attorneys have twice defended the delisting of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem since 2007. One of those cases is ongoing in a U.S. Court of Appeals.

SCI has also filed petitions for the delisting of wolves and grizzlies, submitted numerous comments in support of delisting rules, testified in public hearings, and supported bills aimed at delisting populations of gray wolves and bears. Multiple bill currently pending in Congress – S. 3140, S. 831, H.R. 6035 (gray wolves) and H.R. 1445 and S. 614 (grizzly bears) – would direct the federal government to delist some or all of the recovered populations of the two species.

SCI Foundation, likewise, has been an active partner on predator-prey research, leveraging hundreds of thousands of private dollars into millions of state and provincial monies for science. SCIF’s projects on wolves and grizzlies include efforts in Alaska, Alberta, British Columbia, Michigan, Montana, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

State wildlife management agencies have worked side by side with federal and tribal wildlife managers on wolf and grizzly bear recovery efforts for decades. They are more than capable of continuing the successful management of these species once they are delisted. SCI will continue supporting the transition of management over to the states and continue to advocate for hunting as a management tool for grizzlies and wolves. As has been proven with other predator species, hunting can effectively control population numbers, reduce conflicts with humans and livestock, and provide incentives for landowner tolerance while funding the science-based North American model of conservation. Simply put, wildlife management decisions should be driven by the best available science and not emotional rhetoric, but sadly, two of our nation’s most iconic species continue to be managed by emotion rather than science.