Politics Dominated Wolf De-Listing Meetings
Science Was Afterthought in Developing Preferred Alternatives for Wolf Recovery
Washington, DC — The federal government’s plan to remove the gray wolf from the protections of the Endangered Species Act was hammered out through political bargaining with affected states, according to documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Contrary to requirements of the Endangered Species Act that listing decisions must be governed by the best available science, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service presided over a process in which political and economic considerations were at the forefront.
The 52 documents produced by Fish & Wildlife Service detail how the “National Wolf Strategy” was developed in a series of closed-door federal-state meetings called “Structured Decision Making” or SDM beginning in August 2010. The meetings involved officials from every region of the Service and representatives from the game and fish agencies of 13 states. The SDM process featured –
- A “Focus on Values. Determine objectives (values) first, and let them drive the analysis.” An SDM flow-chart starts with Problem and goes to Objectives, to Alternatives and then to Consequences at which stage a small box labeled “Data” finally comes into play;
- An explicit political test “Where should wolves exist? (emphasis in original) What does the public want? What can the public tolerate?”; and
- A matrix to weigh alternatives on a scale of “legal defensibility” then “public acceptance” followed by “wolf conservation” and finally “efficiency.”
“These documents confirm our worst suspicions that the fate of the wolf was decided at a political bazaar. The meeting notes certainly explain why no outside scientists were welcome,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch who had been seeking the records since April 2012. “From what we can see, Structured Decision Making was structured primarily to deal out the lower-48 population of gray wolves.”
Under a federal proposal currently out for public comment the gray wolf would be stricken from the federal list of threatened or endangered species. The Mexican wolf, with only a handful remaining in the wild, would keep its endangered status but no protected habitat would be delineated for it.
Much of the meetings were devoted to assuaging state threats to sue to halt wolf reintroductions. The tenor of these discussions was captured by a map titled “New Fantastic Alternative” which allowed unlimited hunting of gray wolves in Colorado and Utah. It also confined Mexican wolves to portions of Arizona and New Mexico.
“The Obama administration keeps preaching integrity of science and transparency but seems to practice neither on any matter of consequence,” Ruch added, pointing to PEER’s detailed complaint on how politics smothered the recovery plan developed for Mexican wolves by a team of scientific experts. “In simplest terms, these documents detail how the gray wolf lost a popularity contest among wildlife managers.”
These foundational SDM documents obtained by PEER will likely provide fodder for the lawsuits that will almost certainly follow the expected final federal decision to de-list the gray wolf.