The woods of Minnesota have become wondrous and wild places since gray wolves started making their comeback. But some of our elected officials are trying to scrap the very protections that allowed wolves to rebound in the one state where they never completely disappeared.
If you’re a Minnesotan like me, you’ll likely be surprised to hear that U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat, is joining Republican ranks by sponsoring legislation to strip our state’s gray wolves of Endangered Species Act protections.
Rep. Peterson’s bill (H.R. 424) would reinstate a 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision that removed endangered species protections from wolves in the western Great Lakes states.
In 2014, a federal judge realized that there were grave scientific and legal issues with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision and overturned it, restoring protections for gray wolves. This decision was reaffirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — the nation’s second-highest court. That ruling stopped wolf hunts and highlighted that more must be done before wolves can be considered fully recovered.
As a lifelong state resident who works to protect endangered wildlife, I am deeply troubled by Peterson’s dangerous legislation. Congress should not meddle in what should be a purely scientific decision about protection of an endangered species.
If left alone to work, the Endangered Species Act is the world’s most effective environmental law for saving animals from going extinct. It has saved more than 99 percent of all species it protects and has put hundreds more on the road to recovery. Under the act’s protections, Great Lakes wolves have made immense progress, growing from fewer than 1,000 wolves in a small corner of northeastern Minnesota to more than 4,000 wolves across Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.
And the law’s success is not limited to wolves. In a study by the Center for Biological Diversity, where I work, we found that, for endangered birds, 85 percent of species in the continental U.S. increased or stabilized while protected under the act.
Despite success, the job of recovering gray wolves is far from complete. In the Lower 48 states, they occupy less than 10 percent of their historical range and are still missing in many places that offer excellent wolf habitat, including the southern Rocky Mountains, the Adirondacks and the Dakotas.
They also continue to face prejudice and persecution, with states such as Wisconsin enacting aggressive killing policies aimed at drastically reducing their populations. Wisconsin’s management plan calls for cutting wolf populations by more than half and allows the cruel practice of using hounds to hunt them.
And in Congress, anti-wildlife politicians are not just going after protections for gray wolves. Since the current Congress took over in January, 49 legislative attacks have been launched against endangered species and the Endangered Species Act.
In seeking to gut or repeal the Endangered Species Act, congressional Republicans — and in this case our Rep. Peterson — are woefully out of step with the public. Most Americans overwhelmingly support strong protections for endangered species, and they recognize that this incredibly successful law has saved the gray wolf, the bald eagle, the humpback whale and others from extinction.
Now is not the time to weaken environmental laws — not with a Trump administration in the White House and politicians in Congress who would rather line their pockets with campaign funds from special-interest groups than protect our wildlife and wild places.
Instead, Congress should provide more funding to help save our treasured natural heritage from being lost forever.
Collette Adkins is a Minneapolis-based senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity (biologicaldiversity.org). She represented the center in the recent lawsuit that reaffirmed Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the Great Lakes region.