Brian Merchant,
January 28, 2011

In what wildlife conservationists are calling a dangerously unprecedented move, Montana Representative Denny Rehberg introduced two separate bills aimed at removing wolves from the endangered species list. This would enable the wolves to be hunted at will across the country — and biologists say that it could “set the stage for nationwide wolf eradication.” The Defenders of Wildlife noted that “Together, these bills would allow states to eliminate all wolves in the Northern Rockies, Great Lakes and Southwest, including the 42 Mexican wolves struggling for survival in New Mexico and Arizona.” As you’re likely aware, there are plenty of farmers, ranchers, and landowners across the Midwest who — for good reason — wouldn’t hesitate to hunt down or kill the remaining wolves that threaten their livestock and livelihoods. But we’re talking about the possible eradication of a species here — surely these bills are dangerous in their overreach.

Speaking of dangerous prospects, if passed, these bills would indeed set a frightening precedent. It would mark the first time a single species was exempted from the Endangered Species Act — perhaps paving the way for other severely threatened species to be pulled from the endangered species list as well. And that’s a slippery slope nobody wants to inch towards.

Rodger Schlickeisen, the president of Defenders of Wildlife, released a statement that included the following: “These bills set a terrible precedent that will open the flood gates to legislation to strip protections for any other species that a politician finds inconvenient to protect. Grizzly bears, salmon, whales, polar bears and Florida panthers are just a few that could be at serious risk. If enacted, this legislation would constitute one of the worst assaults on the [Endangered Species Act] since it became law in 1973. If we allow Congress to overrule the courts and usurp the authority of professional wildlife managers and expert biologists, there’s no telling where it will stop.”

Wolves are already struggling for survival across the Midwest, and are, in the opinion of many conservationists, being perilously over-hunted. This bill could be the nail in their coffin.