It is taken as an article of faith in the environmental community that the gray wolf is endangered and in need of protection. Media accounts often refer to the animal as "the endangered" gray wolf.
But is the wolf truly endangered? It turns out no one really knows.
The Endangered Species Act requires that almost no effort be left untried to protect a listed species. All needs of man and lesser creatures take a backseat to those of the protected species. The protections are absolute.
The Endangered Species Act also wisely requires that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service periodically review the status of protected species to determine if the extraordinary efforts taken on their behalf have had any positive impacts. Otherwise, how will anyone know if the efforts are a success and the species has been saved?
While the government does an exceptional job at protecting species and enforcing protective measures on farmers and ranchers, it hasn't done such a good job in reviewing the status of the protected species.
The Endangered Species Act requires that the government review the status of a protected species every five years. The gray wolf was listed as an endangered species in 1978 by the Carter administration. The first five-year period passed without notice during the Reagan Administration, as did the second under President George H.W. Bush. Years 15 and 20 came and went without review under President Clinton's watch, as did years 25 and 30 under the second President Bush.
The wolf has been on the endangered species list for 33 years, and not once has the Fish and Wildlife Service performed a review of its status. Are wolves still threatened, or do they thrive? There's no objective, scientific answer.
Last week the Washington Cattlemen's Association filed suit in U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington to force the government to comply with the mandates of the act.
"The goal is to get the Fish and Wildlife Service to follow the law," said Jack Field, the group's executive vice president. "It's a shame it requires litigation to compel the federal government to complete its statutory obligation."
It is a shame. We accept legitimate efforts to protect species that are, because of man's interactions with the environment, in danger of disappearing from the earth. Similarly, we expect that the government perform these periodic reviews and accept the results.
That's the least owed to the animals that the government seeks to protect. It's also the least that is owed to Western ranchers who are forced to stand by and lose stock to predation from protected wolves.