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Defending the ESA: Why Wolves And Other Wildlife Need It

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Here at the Wolf Conservation Center, our mission extends beyond the care of our on-site wolves: it’s rooted in a profound respect for the balance of ecosystems and the preservation of endangered species across the nation. Our commitment to these principles is unwavering, but we recognize that there are complex debates around how best to achieve these conservation goals. Recently, these debates have taken center stage in a series of remarks made by members of the Congressional Western Caucus concerning the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As a key legislative tool in our collective fight against species extinction, the ESA holds a place of significant importance in our work, making these comments especially consequential. Given the gravity of the issue at hand, we feel it is crucial to address several of the concerns raised by these legislators and to shed light on the critical role the ESA plays in preserving our nation’s biodiversity.

“The ESA has become a weapon—used by extreme environmentalists and serial litigators to slow or halt critical economic development and land management projects in rural communities throughout the United States.” – Chairman Dan Newhouse (WA-04)

This statement indicates a misunderstanding of the ESA’s intent. The Act isn’t a weapon; it’s a tool for balance. It ensures that economic development doesn’t compromise our shared natural heritage. The Act reminds us that we’re custodians of this earth and that long-term ecological health should take precedence over short-term economic gain. Moreover, maintaining biodiversity and healthy ecosystems often has long-term economic benefits, including sustainable forestry and fisheries, and preserving potential medicinal plants.

“The Endangered Species Act, what it’s turned into, is really harming the ability for people to get what they need…” – Executive Vice Chair Doug LaMalfa (CA-01)

We need to differentiate between “need” and “want”. Humans need a healthy planet with diverse ecosystems, but human greed is apt to want unchecked development. This is often referred to as “The Tragedy of the Commons.” The ESA helps us strike that balance. Moreover, the Act does not prohibit economic activity; it merely ensures that such activity is carried out responsibly, with minimal harm to endangered species and their habitats. There are countless success stories over the years that are due to the Endangered Species Act, including the rebuilding of Gray wolf populations across North America following their ESA listing in 1974. Though that listing is still not complete across the Northern Rockies, and there’s still plenty of work to be done to have wolves reach the numbers and geographic diversity they once enjoyed, the partial listing has still allowed wolves to steadily rebuild from the brink of extinction.

“In fact, over the last 50 years, out of the 1,389 listed species only 72 have been recovered and removed from the list…” – Vice Chair Tom Tiffany (WI-07)

It’s crucial to understand that recovery takes time, particularly when dealing with long-living species or those with slow reproduction rates. The fact that any species have been recovered is a testament to the ESA’s effectiveness, considering these species were on the brink of extinction. Additionally, many species would have gone extinct without ESA protection, highlighting the Act’s preventative success.

For instance, let’s consider the story of the Mexican gray wolf, a species we hold close to our hearts at the Wolf Conservation Center. Once widespread across portions of the Southwest United States and Mexico, by the 1970s hunting, trapping, and habitat loss had brought this species to the brink of extinction. Following their listing under the ESA in 1976, a mere seven individuals remained in the wild. After years of captive breeding and reintroduction efforts, there are now over 241 Mexican gray wolves in the wild. The path to recovery for this species has not been easy or swift, and the work is far from over, but the upward trend in their population is an undeniable testament to the power of targeted, long-term conservation strategies facilitated by the ESA.

“Federal bureaucrats, unelected federal bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., or judges in California should not be able to take away our management powers…” – Vice Chair Pete Stauber (MN-08)

The goal of the ESA is not to usurp local management but to provide a safety net for species that are so imperiled that local and state protections have proven insufficient. Moreover, the Act often involves cooperation with local and state agencies, not just unilateral federal decisions.

Vice Chair Pete Stauber (MN-08) voices concern about federal bureaucracy and its perceived power to undermine local management capabilities. This seems to refer to the listing situation around the gray wolf’s status under the Endangered Species Act. Under the Trump administration, the gray wolf was delisted across the U.S., resulting in widespread bloodshed for wolves, a decision that was subsequently reversed by a federal court due to concerns about the adequacy of state-level protections.

The case of the gray wolf delisting and relisting provides an illuminating example of how the ESA operates. The goal of the ESA is not to usurp local management but to provide a safety net for species that are so imperiled that local and state protections have proven insufficient. When the gray wolf was delisted, many conservationists and scientists raised concerns about whether the species had recovered to a point where it could maintain its population without the protections offered by the ESA. The subsequent relisting decision by the federal court was not an attempt to undermine local management but rather a response to these scientifically grounded concerns.

Moreover, the Act often involves cooperation with local and state agencies, not just unilateral federal decisions. Many conservation efforts, including those for the Mexican gray wolf and red wolf populations, are built on partnerships between federal agencies and local organizations like ours. This collaborative model is the essence of the ESA – working together at all levels to safeguard our nation’s biodiversity

“The Endangered Species Act has had profound impacts on my state of Wyoming by limiting economic development and restricting the implementation of reasonable and effective land, water, and resource management and use.” – Rep. Harriet Hageman (WY-AL)

Wolves, once wiped out across the majority of the US, including Wyoming, have begun to recover due to the protections afforded by the ESA. This recovery has benefited ecosystem health, including aiding in controlling deer and elk populations and reducing damage to vegetation. We must recognize that the preservation of endangered species, like wolves, benefits the health of our ecosystems and the overall quality of life for future generations. Wyoming is one of several states that doesn’t currently have ESA protections for Gray wolves, and we’ve seen some devastating effects.

We stand by the Endangered Species Act and its mission to preserve and recover key species that contribute to healthy, functioning ecosystems. Not only do we not want the ESA weakened, we’d like to see it expanded to again include the Northern Rockies. In fact, you can use our Action Alert now to help call on the Biden admin to provide emergency protections for those wolves, especially after Idaho recently presented a controversial wolf management plan to cut the state’s wolf population by nearly two-thirds.

If you’re looking for other ways to get involved, consider reaching out to members of the Congressional Western Caucus in your state to voice your displeasure for their attempts to weaken the ESA. We invite legislators and citizens alike to engage in constructive dialogue on how we can continually improve the implementation of this critical piece of legislation for the benefit of all species and our shared environment. We’ve placed the names and districts below of the Western Caucus members for your convenience. You can visit https://www.house.gov/representatives to find contact info for your local representative. You can also email the Western Caucus in general at western.caucus@mail.house.gov

Western Caucus Members by State (Alphabetically)

Alabama

  • Rep. Jerry Carl (AL-01)
  • Rep. Barry Moore (AL-02)
  • Rep. Gary Palmer (AL-06)

Alaska

  • Rep. Mary Sattler Peltola (AK-AL)

Samoa américaines

  • Rep. Aumua Amata Radewagen (American Samoa- At Large)

Arizona

  • Rep. Andy Biggs (AZ-05)
  • Rep. Juan Ciscomani (AZ-06)
  • Rep. Eli Crane (AZ-02)
  • Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ-09)
  • Rep. Debbie Lesko (AZ-08)
  • Rep. David Schweikert (AZ-06)

Arkansas

  • Rep. Rick Crawford (AR-01)
  • Rep. Bruce Westerman, Natural Resources Chair (AR-04)

California

  • Rep. Ken Calvert (CA-41)
  • Rep. John Duarte (CA-13)
  • Rep. Darrell Issa (CA-48)
  • Rep. Kevin Kiley (CA-03)
  • Rep. Doug LaMalfa (CA-01)
  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy, House Speaker (CA-23)
  • Rep. Tom McClintock (CA-05)
  • Rep. Jay Obernolte (CA-23)
  • Rep. David Valadao (CA-22)

Colorado

  • Rep. Lauren Boebert (CO-03)
  • Rep. Ken Buck (CO-04)
  • Rep. Doug Lamborn (CO-05)

Floride

  • Rep. Kat Cammack (FL-03)
  • Rep. Byron Donalds (FL-19)

Georgia

  • Rep. Buddy Carter (GA-01)
  • Rep. Austin Scott (GA-08)

Guam

  • Rep. James Moylan (Guam – At Large)

Idaho

  • Rep. Russ Fulcher (ID-01)
  • Rep. Mike Simpson (ID-02)

Illinois

  • Rep. Mike Bost, Veterans’ Affairs Chair (IL-12)

Indiana

  • Rep. James Baird (IN-04)
  • Rep. Larry Bucshon (IN-08)

Iowa

  • Rep. Randy Feenstra (IA-04)
  • Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01)

Kansas

  • Rep. Ron Estes (KS-04)
  • Rep. Jake LaTurner (KS-02)
  • Rep. Tracey Mann (KS-01)

Kentucky

  • Rep. James Comer, Oversight Chair (KY-01)

Louisiana

  • Rep. Garret Graves (LA-06)
  • Rep. Mike Johnson (LA-04)
  • Rep. Steve Scalise, Majority Leader (LA-01)

Michigan

  • Rep. Jack Bergman (MI-01)

Minnesota

  • Rep. Tom Emmer, Majority Whip (MN-06)
  • Rep. Brad Finstad (MN-01)
  • Rep. Michelle Fischbach (MN-07)
  • Rep. Pete Stauber (MN-08)

Missouri

  • Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO-03)
  • Rep. Jason Smith, Ways and Means Chair (MO-08)

Montana

  • Rep. Matt Rosendale (MT-02)
  • Rep. Ryan Zinke (MT-01)

Nebraska

  • Rep. Don Bacon (NE-02)
  • Rep. Mike Flood (NE-01)
  • Rep. Adrian Smith (NE-03)

Nevada

  • Rep. Mark Amodei (NV-02)

New York

  • Rep. Elise Stefanik (NY-21)
  • Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (NY-11)

North Carolina

  • Rep. Greg Murphy (NC-03)
  • Rep. David Rouzer (NC-07)

North Dakota

  • Rep. Kelly Armstrong (ND-At Large)

Ohio

  • Rep. Bill Johnson (OH-06)
  • Rep. David Joyce (OH-14)
  • Rep. Mike Carey (OH-15)

Oklahoma

  • Rep. Stephanie Bice (OK-05)
  • Rep. Josh Brecheen (OK-02)
  • Rep. Kevin Hern (OK-01)
  • Rep. Frank Lucas, SST Chair (OK-03)

Oregon

  • Rep. Cliff Bentz (OR-02)
  • Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (OR-05)

Pennsylvania

  • Rep. GT Thompson, Agriculture Committee Chair (PA-15)
  • Rep. Dan Meuser (PA-09)

Puerto Rico

  • Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (PR-At Large)

South Carolina

  • Rep. Jeff Duncan (SC-03)
  • Rep. Ralph Norman (SC-05)

South Dakota

  • Rep. Dusty Johnson (SD-At Large)

Tennessee

  • Rep. Diana Harshbarger (TN-01)

Texas

  • Rep. Jodey Arrington, Budget Chair (TX-19)
  • Rep. Brian Babin (TX-36)
  • Rep. Michael Burgess (TX-26)
  • Rep. Dan Crenshaw (TX-02)
  • Rep. Monica De La Cruz (TX-15)
  • Rep. Jake Ellzey (TX-06)
  • Rep. Pat Fallon (TX-04)
  • Rep. Kay Granger, Appropriations Chair (TX-12)
  • Rep. Ronny Jackson (TX-13)
  • Rep. Troy Nehls (TX-22)
  • Rep. August Pfluger (TX-11)
  • Rep. Beth Van Duyne (TX-24)
  • Rep. Roger Williams (TX-25)

Utah

  • Rep. John Curtis (UT-03)
  • Rep. Blake Moore (UT-01)
  • Rep. Burgess Owens (UT-04)
  • Rep. Chris Stewart (UT-02)

Washington

  • Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, E&C Chair (WA-05)
  • Rep. Dan Newhouse (WA-04)

West Virginia

  • Rep. Carol Miller (WV-01)
  • Rep. Alex Mooney (WV-02)

Wisconsin

  • Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (WI-05)
  • Rep. Thomas Tiffany (WI-07)

Wyoming

  • Rep. Harriet Hageman (WY-At Large)