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Gray Wolves Declared Recovered and Other Links from the Brink

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Gray wolves, little penguins and rare birds in Fiji are among the endangered species in the news this weekend.

gray wolf

Photo: Tracy Brooks/USFWS

Prepare for the Howls: In a not-unexpected move, this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on Friday announced that it will propose to delist gray wolves (Canis lupus) from the Endangered Species Act (ESA), arguing that the species has recovered and is no longer at risk of extinction. At the same time, FWS said it will propose increasing recovery efforts for the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf subspecies (Canis lupus baileyi).

In a press call on Friday afternoon, FWS director Dan Ashe characterized the decision as “the next step forward in wolf conservation” and “one of the special successes we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.” He said gray wolves—which were nearly wiped out decades ago by government persecution—no longer face extinction or require the protection of the ESA.

“To see a species rebound from a century-long period of human persecution to flourish on the landscape again is something we’re all extraordinarily lucky to witness in our lifetimes,” Ashe said. “Make no mistake about it we believe the recovery of the gray wolf is one of the most remarkable successes in the history of wildlife conservation. The political rhetoric, the litigation and wrangling that we he have seen in recent times around wolf management underscore how unlikely this recovery was, how severely the deck was stacked against wolves.”

The announcement marks the latest step in a tumultuous few years for gray wolves, with the species leaving and rejoining the endangered species list several times amidst a constant volley of lawsuits and complaints. Wolf populations in the Western Grey Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountain regions lost their protected status in 2011 and 2012, with management decisions going back to the states. This brought about a virtual tsunami of hunting resulting in more than 1,100 dead wolves.

Of course, conservation groups immediately came out against this proposal. Most of their comments hinged upon the tiny fraction of gray wolf historic habitat that the animals have recolonized and the tenuous condition of the populations in the Pacific Northwest. “Wolf recovery has been one of our greatest Endangered Species Act success stories, but stopping now before the population is fully recovered will negate the decades of hard work that have gone into bringing wolves back from the brink of extinction,” Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a prepared statement. “Without federal protections this symbol of our wild heritage will slide back into harm’s way. We’ve seen the brutal assault on wolves that followed the loss of federal protections in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Increasingly hostile anti-wolf policies by states in charge of ensuring wolves’ survival don’t bode well for the future of this majestic creature.”

Ashe said the Federal responsibility for bringing gray wolves back from the brink of extinction “has been achieved.” He also said that FWS would continue to monitor wolf populations for five years after their official delisting and that he was very confident about the role of states to manage their wolves in the future.

I’m not so sure. I do believe that the gray wolf’s recovery is, indeed, an amazing achievement and something to loudly and proudly celebrate. But I also believe that many of the states with wolf populations today have shown great disregard for the animals. The number of wolves killed over the past two years—animals that we as a country have spent tens of millions of dollars to recover—should be seen as a national shame. An astonishing 7 percent of the wolves in the Rocky Mountain region were killed in 2012. This year Idaho Governor Butch Otter, who previously declared wolves a “disaster emergency,” vetoed funding for wolf management. That’s not proper management by the states. It’s an invitation to chaos and a potential slaughter.

None of this is official quite yet. Public comments will be open for the next 90 days at http://regulations.gov (search for FWS-HQ-ES-2013-00073). We’ll see what happens after that.

In other news…

Feel-Good Story of the Week: How do you protect little penguins (Eudyptula minor) from invasive foxes? Call in the dogs. Just seven years ago voracious foxes had all but wiped out an important little penguin breeding colony on Middle Island in Australia, leaving just eight birds where they used to be more than 1,000. Enter two Maremma sheepdogs. In the time since the dogs were brought to the island not a single penguin has been killed by foxes. Today the population has rebounded to almost 200 adult birds. The New Zealand Herald has the full story.

Take Action: People always ask me, what can they do to help endangered species? One of the best things to do is to cut palm oil out of your diet. Palm oil plantations in Indonesia—often planted illegally—threaten orangutans and a host of other species. A new Facebook page lets you know which products (both food and beauty items) contain palm oil and what you can do to ask companies to stop using this environmentally destructive ingredient. Go for it.

Tamaraw

Photo: WWF-Philippines

Hey Good Looking: When I wrote about the tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) last year, I bemoaned the dearth of public domain images of this rare buffalo species. That’s why the news of these new camera trap images from the Philippines is so exciting.

Want more good news about the tamaraw? Last year the population was at about 300 animals. Now it’s up to 345. Conservationists hope to increase the population to 600 by 2020.

UPS, Airlines and Smuggled Wildlife: James Bruggers at the Courier-Journal gives us a great inside look at the massive quantities of wildlife products smuggled through Louisville International Airport (a UPS hub) and the people working to stem the tide.

A Flap Over California Condors: Following up on last week’s article about California condors (Gymnogyps californianus), here’s the flip side over their conservation resurgence. It turns out the big birds take some getting used to when they turn up in your yard. They poop a lot and they eat things like roof insulation. The residents of Bear Valley Springs aren’t too happy about their new neighbors, but biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are on the scene trying to help humans and condors to coexist.

Few Funds in Fiji: Two critically endangered bird species in Fiji—the Fiji petrel (Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi) and the red-throated lorikeet (Charmosyna amabilis)—lack the necessary conservation funding to save them from extinction. “Government doesn’t provide a single dollar to the conservation of either of these species of birds, and so we have to find that funding from overseas,” environmental consultant Dick Watling, who recently assessed all of the country’s birds, told Radio Australia.

Moron Alert: Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador thinks the U.S. government shouldn’t do anything to help endangered species, and that “nature takes care of itself.” People like Labrador are why we need the Endangered Species Act more than ever.

Celebrity Environmentalist of the Week: Action star Jackie Chan has filmed a new public service announcement for WildAid as part of their “Say No to Rhino Horn” campaign. His co-star in the ad is a six-year-old white rhino named Spike who was orphaned when poachers killed his parents. The ad will hit the airwaves in China and Vietnam in a few months.

Jackie Chan rhino

Photos: WildAid

 

Well, that’s it for this time around. For more endangered species news stories throughout the week, read the regular Extinction Countdown articles here at Scientific American, “like” Extinction Countdown on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter.

John R. Platt About the Author: Twice a week, John Platt shines a light on endangered species from all over the globe, exploring not just why they are dying out but also what's being done to rescue them from oblivion. Follow on Twitter @johnrplatt.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. nmleon 9:58 pm 06/7/2013

    Nonsense. The wolves that originally inhabited the area were C. Irremotus, and the “reintroduced” wolves were the larger and more aggressive C.L. occidentalis that have destroyed the elk and moose populations.

    Introducing a related but different species isn’t reintroduction, it’s poor wildlife management.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Podocarpus 3:43 am 06/8/2013

    John- I think you will find that Middle Island, Warnambool, the Great Ocean Road and Deakin UNiversity are all across the ditch in the less well known West Island of New Zealand AKA Victoria, Australia.

    Very interesting story though.

    Link to this
  3. 3. John R. Platt in reply to John R. Platt 8:47 am 06/8/2013

    Thanks, Podocarpus. I knew that. Corrected.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Scienceisnotagenda 10:34 am 06/8/2013

    .??? Wolves have never been near extinction. They are quite healthy in 90% of their traditional range in Canada. There are wolf culls due to over population many years. There is also hunting of wolves in Alaska. Populations is the Russian boreal area are unknown but may exceed Canada’s wolf population of 70,000.

    The USA is a political concept, not an ecological one. Wolves, for the most part, thrive in much of their traditional range. Because these are of low humanness density doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    Link to this
  5. 5. jplatt 10:55 am 06/8/2013

    “Scienceisnotagenda,” the Endangered Species Act protects not just species that are in danger of worldwide extinction but also threatened sub-populations. It was absolutely within the mandate of the ESA to protect wolves from extinction within the contiguous United States.

    Link to this
  6. 6. jplatt 11:17 am 06/8/2013

    (I have had to delete a couple of comments that crossed the line. I welcome all comments are long as they are civil.)

    Link to this
  7. 7. Hai~Ren 12:37 pm 06/8/2013

    Is irremotus even a ‘valid’ subspecies? I thought it had been acknowledged that grey wolf subspecies had been oversplit.

    And I do find it hard to believe that occidentalis would be very radically different in biology, size and temperament than other temperate North American subspecies.

    Link to this
  8. 8. John R. Platt in reply to John R. Platt 12:59 pm 06/8/2013

    Thanks for your comment, Hai-Ren. Wolf subspecies taxonomy seems to be a matter of great debate, even today. FWS has always considered gray wolves as a single species, with the exception of the Mexican gray wolf subspecies.

    I don’t think the claim that the Canadian wolves are bigger and meaner than the wolves that previously lived in Yellowstone holds water, nor does the claim that they have “destroyed the elk and moose populations” wherever they have regained their historic habitat.

    Link to this
  9. 9. Guang 1:37 pm 06/8/2013

    My sincere apologies to the author of this post I didn’t know it was unacceptable to criticize a blog posting in Scientific American on a scientific basis. Convenient to delete comments you disagree with.

    Link to this
  10. 10. John R. Platt in reply to John R. Platt 2:49 pm 06/8/2013

    Hmm. I don’t see anything sincere in that apology. Go figure.

    Talk science all you want. Don’t be obnoxious about it.

    Link to this
  11. 11. alexoneal 4:34 pm 06/8/2013

    I spent quite a bit of time on regulations.gov, seeking “FWS-HQ-ES-2013-00073,” wolf, wolves, and many other keywords, and attempting to refine to FWS (Fish & Wildlife Service) items. I was completely unable to find any wolf-related items which were open to comment. Not your fault, Mr. Platt – the site is terribly designed, and the search function refuses to retain your choices as you refine your search. If you have a direct link, please share it :-)

    I wish I didn’t think this was opening up more wolves to poisoning and hunting from the air (about as cowardly and inhuman a hunt as I can imagine). I wish I felt my comments could be heard. I wish we had evolved more as a country in our ability to live alongside and be stewards of wildlife, instead of shoving the rest of nature off to the side. Sadly, I don’t think we’ve gotten much further than we have since the great Frank Dobie observed that “Sympathy for wild animals – sympathy that is as much intellectual as emotional – has not been a strong element in the American way of life.”

    Link to this
  12. 12. John R. Platt in reply to John R. Platt 5:08 pm 06/8/2013

    Hi Alex, thanks for trying to make a public comment. FWS made its announcement on Friday, and it’s possible the system isn’t accepting comments quite yet. I bet it will by early this week. The public comment system is always a bit tough to use. I’ll check in a few days myself and try to post an update when I see for sure that it’s working.

    Link to this
  13. 13. E Massie 9:45 am 06/9/2013

    Thanks for all these updates. Many are encouraging, some discouraging. But it’s always best to be informed. I especially appreciate your answer to the question, “What can we do?” I’ll watch out for and avoid palm oil.

    Link to this
  14. 14. John R. Platt in reply to John R. Platt 4:27 pm 06/13/2013

    For those waiting, the public comment period for gray wolves is now open. Instructions are in this FWS pdf: http://www.fws.gov/home/feature/2013/pdf/Gray_Wolf_Comment_Period_Bulletin.pdf

    Link to this

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