“We don’t know why the Service eliminated the recovery program coordinator position, or why it stopped offering rewards for information on poaching cases, or why it ended its highly successful pup-fostering program,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center. “The Service is using every stalling tactic in the book to let the red wolf program wither and die, and its refusal to turn over any documents keeps all of us in the dark about what’s going on.”
“The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today under the Freedom of Information Act requesting that the agency hand over public records that explain why it pulled the plug on the red wolf recovery program. Early last fall the Center requested public records related to the Service’s decision. In the seven months that followed, the Service has sent a total of only eight documents to the Center, and continues to ignore the Freedom of Information Act’s mandated deadlines.”
Beautiful, shy and inoffensive, American red wolves are once again teetering on the brink of extinction. Despite a widely-lauded comeback in 1987 after the Service implemented a successful and innovative recovery program – a plan that was the envy of the world – red wolf recovery is suddenly in shambles. And now, inexplicably, Dan Ashe in the DC office of the USFWS seems to be discarding it all and totally abandoning this painfully imperiled species to its fate.
Seeing as there are as few as 45 excruciatingly vulnerable wild red wolves left, this behavior by the feds is certainly suspicious. It may be the first time in history that recovery efforts for an endangered species have been abandoned but, unnervingly, it’s not the only recent instance of our government’s failure to carry out its conservation duties. With an increasingly hostile political climate, protecting wildlife, National Forests, National Parks and other public lands seems to have become unfashionable. One has to wonder whether increasing disregard for the spirit and letter of the Endangered Species Act is a sign of political spinelessness, or someone’s deliberate attempt to gut the ESA itself. Could this be symptomatic of federal pandering to the special interests that benefit most from commandeering public spaces and sensitive lands for profit? Is it being coerced by higher government and/or industry strongmen? Attempts to dismantle the ESA as a way of flipping a ‘finger’ to the oft-hated US government is certainly not a new tactic. In fact the ‘war on wolves’ has, historically, very much been a way for political malcontents to express their generalized rage against the the government.
A newly uncovered ploy by the Koch brothers and their agents has already revealed a concerted effort to destroy and privatize our precious system of public lands. Without endangered species laws, there’s not much to stand in the way of widespread, unbridled exploitation. Weakening or unraveling the ESA is widely seen as ‘good for business’. So even if not a deliberate ploy by industry, it’s certainly something they’re happy to enable.
Red wolves, of course, are not the only species being thrown under the bus. In an affront to the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, helicopters have been rounding up and penning our wild mustangs by the thousands – Many of which are being sold to kill buyers for the Mexican slaughter industry. Grizzlies are being railroaded off the Endangered Species list, supposedly because they are ‘recovered’ – But more likely it’s another attempt to gut our most successful species preservation program. Our native prairie dogs – Fascinating, highly-social community animals – are being destroyed all across their range, their numbers in catastrophic free-fall – yet they’re repeatedly being denied full federal protections. Maybe protecting prairie dogs means denying new building, drilling or fracking permits? Turns out 56% of the remaining habitat for white tailed prairie dogs is “on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, much of which is leased for oil and gas drilling. The FWS denied thewhite-tailed prairie dog Endangered Species Act protection in 2010.”
It gets even worse – Now it’s down to questioning the validity of songbird species in order to deny them protection. Fighting legislation through taxonomy. What a way to mix up science and law. For instance, the Western willow flycatcher, a distinct subspecies, is now threatened with something called ‘lumping’ – An attempt to legally diminish its conservation worthiness by lumping it in with more common related species, so as to artificially inflate its perceived numbers – making it seem ‘less threatened’ and therefore less deserving of protection. No ‘Endangered Species’ designation means no special protection, no annoying rules against exploitation of critical habitats. No places ‘off limits’ to plundering-for-profit ‘just’ because the birds need protected places in which to live, breed and raise their next generation.
Enough. Nature, biodiversity and wildlife should never be considered expendable, even if they ‘impede industry’. Wildlife and wild lands must not be made into sacrificial lambs so a few can profit at the expense of the rest of us. Intricately interconnected living systems and future generations have a right to a fully-functioning, fully biodiverse and deeply healthy planet. As does the Earth, itself.
When the Wildlife Conservation Examiner went to the USFWS red wolf page (updated on 3/23/16) the Red Wolf Recovery Program tab shows there are 50-75 wild red wolves in the recovery area (in the paragraph immediately under the 2007 entry ‘Red Wolf Recovery Program receives the Association of Zoos and Aquariums North American Conservation Award’). Current confirmed numbers are more like 45-60. Just years before, well over twice that many were making a living eating invasive nutria in the pocosin swamps of their range. The boots-on-the-ground recovery team tried their very best and are heartbroken (per personal correspondence) – What happened to the red wolves in the intervening years?
Maybe this ominous entry on the same page has something to do with it: “1991, American Sheep Industry Association files petition to delist red wolf based on genetic analyses.” Gee, since when does the sheep industry have a say in biological taxonomy and naming of native wild species, and since when does it have a say in which wildlife is worthy of being listed as endangered? Since when does the USFWS allow industry pressure to trump sound science? Where is the backbone needed to actually fulfill the USFWS mandate to protect and restore species? Luckily that particular tactic failed – But there were others.
Read closer and there’s an even more ominous entry from 1995: “National Wilderness Institute files petition to delist red wolf based on nuclear DNA results”. What is the National Wilderness Institute and who funds them? “Once the brainchild of two young sportsmen who love nature and belong to the political right wing,'” say’s the Encyclopedia of Politics: The Left and the Right.” Another search turnedthis up: “The National Wilderness Institute (NWI) is a part of the anti-environmental “Wise Use” movement. It works to challenge the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and undermine other wilderness protections.” Another say’s “NWI sees themselves as a “voice of reason on the environment,” and are involved with repealing the Endangered Species Act and property rights issues.” The search also indicates funding from sources like Monsanto and Exxon Mobile. Could any of this have any bearing on why red wolves and other endangered species are becoming hot potatoes to be dropped into the abyss?
So this is the crux of things: All of our irreplaceable wildlife, from red wolves to grizzlies, American wild horses to prairie dogs to bison to sage grouse to Southwestern willow flycatchers, every species and subspecies, race and variation, has intrinsic value. It is the obligation of our federal United States Fish and Wildlife Service to carry out the functions we’ve entrusted to them, which we are paying them for – Which is to protect and restore imperiled species and their habitats. No matter what powerful and rich private interests may pull to try to stop them.
See the full press release from Center for Biological Diversity, and sign up with them to help red wolf recovery efforts, here.
Information on the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, here.
Listen to a Southwestern Willow Flycatcher here.
“Edited for clarity
*Additional link added of red wolves howling.