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ESA lawsuit aids lawyers, not wolves

Published on December 31, 2010 3:01AM

Last changed on January 28, 2011 8:38AM

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

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The Center for Biological Diversity has announced plans to sue the Interior Department unless the government writes a plan that would restore wolves to their historic ranges in the lower 48 states.

We think that's a bad idea that in the end won't do as much for the wolves as it could do for the Center for Biological Diversity.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wolves once roamed in all or parts of every state west of the Mississippi except Arkansas and Louisiana. They also inhabited the Midwest north of the Ohio River and throughout the Northeast from Pennsylvania to Maine. Wolves, it seems, were not partial to the warm, Southeastern climate.

There are now about 6,000 wolves in the lower 48, mostly in the Northern Rocky Mountains, and northern Minnesota and Michigan. As ranchers know too well, there's a budding population in eastern Oregon and Washington.

Wolves are marvelously adaptive hunters. They can follow a wild, migratory food source, but just as easily learn to prey on domesticated livestock. When that's the case, they run afoul of human economic interests. That's what led to them to be all but exterminated in most of the country by the early 20th century.

That was a travesty. Wolves are God's creatures, too, and have a place on the planet. We are happy that wolves have been reintroduced to certain locales, such as Yellowstone National Park, where they can run free and hunt their historic prey. We believe there are other national parks that could sustain wolves that are completely protected from human predation.

The problem with wolves is that they seldom stay in those places. In the 21st century, wolves roaming the length and breadth of their historic range come into contact with human activity on a scale far greater than was the case when they were hunted to near extinction before. They follow elk and find sheep. They chase deer and find steers.

There are thousands of square miles of remote, sparsely populated country in the West, and still the wolves find themselves in conflict with humans. With a few exceptions, the historic range east of the Mississippi is filled with people and all their trappings. Towns are plentiful, and farms dot every township section from East St. Louis to Bangor.

The citizens of those regions probably appreciate wolves as much as anyone, but their feelings are bound to harden as, in addition to an abundant deer population, protected packs of predators develop appetites for equally abundant but less agile pets and livestock.

Will anyone but a few environmentalists embrace such a plan once the consequences of its success were considered? Could it ever really be a success? Where could the Interior Department deposit wolves where they wouldn't quickly be perceived to be a threat, or become an actual threat?

To follow the letter of the law, the department would be faced with a nearly impossible task. To do less would be to risk additional litigation and costly settlements with the Center for Biological Diversity.

That leads us to question the motivation behind the threatened suit. Who stands to benefit more, the wolves or the lawyers?


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