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U.S. House Votes To Remove Federal Protection For Gray Wolves

Gary Kramer, US Fish and Wildlife Service

The U.S. House of Representatives has made the latest move in a long debate over wolves. The body voted today [Friday] to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf in the contiguous United States. The vote was 196-to-180, with nearly 60 representatives not voting.

The bill would hand wolf management over to the states, as is already the case in eastern Washington and Idaho.

Sponsors of the proposal tout its bipartisan support. About a dozen Democrats crossed the aisle to join Republicans in saying wolf recovery has been a success and now it’s time for the federal government to step aside.

About 60 wolves were imported from Canada and introduced into central Idaho and the Yellowstone ecosystem in the mid-1990s. The population has expanded both in numbers — there are now about six thousand wolves in the lower 48 — and in geography.

“If you live in the northern part of the United States, Great Lakes and West, you understand that the wolves are a huge problem," said Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wisconsin), the prime sponsor of the bill. “That’s why you’ve seen Democrat senators from this region, Democrat congressmen from this region and Republicans too to say, listen, we have to manage these wolves. If you live in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., it’s not a problem.”

It is a problem in rural areas where the wolves now live, says Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington), one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

“In eastern Washington, and specifically in northeastern Washington, predation on calves has become common. I regularly hear from people who are seeing wolves around their property and people who cannot defend themselves without it being a felony," she said. "Eastern Washington knows better how to manage our land and wildlife than someone here sitting in a cubicle in Washington, D.C.”

Opponents, such as Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), say the fear arguments do not align with reality. He says federal statistics show that three-fourths of cows die because of health issues. Only a very small percentage, he says, are killed by predators.

“Two-point-seven [percent] is due to coyotes, cougars, bear and dogs, predators. And, oh here we are, look, look, point two percent, point two percent is due to wolf predation,” DeFazio said.

DeFazio says federal protection has allowed places like Yellowstone, where wolves have rebuilt their populations, to regain their natural balance and become healthier places for all animals and plants.

States like Idaho and Washington are already managing wolf populations. Idaho allows hunters to buy licenses and shoot them. In the eastern third of Washington, where wolves no longer enjoy federal protection, state wildlife officials have arranged for several wolves to be killed when it is proved they killed domestic animals.

Sponsors of the bill say, in many cases, wolf management is determined not by wildlife managers, but by judges ruling on cases brought by radical conservation groups. Their bill would stop the courts from reviewing the decision to delist the species. Opponents say that removes the public’s right to monitor and act on decisions made by government.

Peter DeFazio says, with time running out in this Congressional session, the House was wasting its time on this bill.

“We could be doing a farm bill. There’s a whole lot of things we can do. A budget for the United States government, but no, we’re here on a talking point for a few idiots,” he said.

The Senate has yet to vote on the bill.