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Pinedale Online > News > January 2008 > Dubois environmentalist responds to Barrasso on wolves
Dubois environmentalist responds to Barrasso on wolves
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
January 26, 2008

Dubois environmentalist Robert Hoskins sent a letter to United States Senator John Barrasso responding to Barrasso's suggestion that certain other U.S. Congressman need to "butt out" on the wolf issue in our area. Not surprisingly, Hoskins used the opportunity to slam ranchers and livestock grazing.

Here's what Hoskins had to say to the Senator.

"I am writing to respond to your comments, included below, regarding the letter that five U. S. Congressmen sent to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne asking him to delay wolf delisting, currently scheduled for next month. Specifically, I disagree with your comment that these Congressmen "have no concept of the damage gray wolves do.

"Senator, just what damage are you talking about? As a naturalist, elk hunter, and a long-term student of wolf ecology and conservation, I can tell you that the presence of wolves in Wyoming has been entirely beneficial and in the public interest.

"Regarding wildlife, the claims that wolves are wiping out northwestern Wyoming's elk is simply false. Rather than going into an excessively long scientific and policy discussion about the issue, which would take many pages of exposition, I'd ask you instead to consider this question: if wolves are doing so much damage to wildlife, then why is the Wyoming G&F Department still offering late season elk cow-calf tags in the very areas where wolves are allegedly doing so much damage? Check out the 2008 G&F hunting license applications booklet (page 20), and note the location of elk hunt areas offering late season (Type 6) tags. You'll see that late season tags are available in most of the elk hunt areas in the wolf country of northwestern Wyoming.

"It stands to reason that were wolves (no pun intended) truly causing so much damage to elk--specifically, having a direct impact on low cow-calf ratios--that the G&F Department would not be offering a late elk hunting season with the consequence of directly lowering cow and calf numbers. Wouldn't you agree?

"Ecologically, the presence of wolves in northwestern Wyoming has been entirely beneficial to land as well as elk and other wildlife, not harmful. Considerable evidence is coming out of Yellowstone National Park, for example, that wolf predation is causing elk to spread themselves out across the landscape, thereby reducing their densities, permitting overgrazed and overbrowsed areas to recover, particularly riparian areas. Because of wolves, we are seeing a resurgence of willows, aspen, and beaver in riparian areas where once they were scarce.

"I myself am seeing many of the same positive impacts in the Wiggins Fork Elk Herd that ranges in the Dubois-Crowheart area; this is the herd I hunt and I know it quite well.

"Regarding livestock, we have to realize that the livestock industry is responsible for the eradication of wolves in Wyoming, and is thus responsible for the serious ecological damage done to land and wildlife over the last century by the elimination of this top predator from Wyoming. (Ranchers are, quite frankly, also responsible for a whole suit of ecological problems arising from livestock grazing, and I firmly believe they must share the costs of repairing that damage. Ranchers damaged the common good in pursuit of their private interests; it's about time for the common interest to take priority).

"I'm sure you're familiar with law professor Debra Donahue's book, The Western Range Revisited, the publication of which caused such consternation in the Wyoming legislature some years back that some legislators wanted to abolish the University of Wyoming law school, where Donahue was teaching at the time. She does a wonderful job of describing the ecological damage that livestock grazing has done in the West.

"Consequently, it is entirely just and fitting that ranchers should bear some of the costs of wolf reintroduction. Further, I would remind you that especially on public lands ranchers are not indemnified against risk of any sort; they have neither a legal nor moral right to expect a risk-free environment for grazing their cattle and sheep. They are, however, more than free to implement best management practices that reduce the risk of predation and other potential sources of livestock mortality. Few do, unfortunately. I might point out that under Wyoming's game statute (Title 23), ranchers are eligible for financial compensation for verified livestock losses to trophy game animals. I would point out too that the Wyoming G&F Commission has been extremely generous over the years in handing over my and other citizens' hunting and fishing license fees to ranchers for depredation compensation--funds I would much rather see go to habitat and wildlife management rather than to ranchers as another subsidy, a subsidy that ranchers, through their control of the Wyoming legislature, voted for themselves.

"Such are the privileges of oligarchy.

"Legally, you should know that Wyoming's "dual status" wolf plan--trophy game status in northwest Wyoming, predatory animal status in the rest of the State--violates both the Endangered Species Act and the 1994 Final Rule under which wolves were reintroduced to Wyoming. Once again, without going into a long legalistic discussion, I'd ask you to consider this: for years, the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service refused to accept Wyoming's plan; the agency consistently acknowledged the plan's illegality. Let us not forget that the people of this country are burdened with the Bush administration, the most anti-environmental, and the most fascist to boot, administration in U. S. history. You would think that the FWS would have rolled over immediately to Wyoming's demands to accept the dual status plan. But the FWS refused to do so until a year ago, when former Idaho governor Dirk Kempthorne became Secretary of the Interior. Then, all of a sudden, the FWS changed its mind and accepted dual status. A very curious flip-flop, wouldn't you agree?

"The FWS has tried to justify its flip-flop decision by denying that the ESA requires restoration of an endangered or threatened species to its historical range, only to its current range; the FWS now defines the wolf's current range in Wyoming as only northwestern Wyoming. This is clearly in error for several reasons.

"Senator, I think you'll find that the ESA language that calls for the restoration of a plant or animal species to "a significant portion of its range" also requires restoration of that species to its historical range. "Significant" and "historical" necessarily and operationally go together, especially in the case of such a historically widespread species as the wolf.

"Ever since the passage of the ESA more than 30 years ago, FWS rules have interpreted the statutory language to include "historical" within the meaning of the statute. I suggest to you that an objective, neutral judge might find that the sudden "discovery" by the FWS that its 30-year interpretation of the ESA doesn't now apply to wolf recovery has no scientific or legal basis, and thus is arbitrary and capricious.

"Further, I suggest that you review Appendix 11 of the 1994 Gray Wolf Final Environmental Impact Statement. Appendix 11 outlines the requirements for delisting. One of those requirements for delisting that is that a State plan implement an "adequate regulatory mechanism" for wolf conservation and management. The Appendix specifically asserts (page 6-82) that "predatory animal status" in Wyoming is incompatible with an adequate regulatory mechanism. A judge might notice this incompatibility between the Final Rule and Wyoming's wolf plan as well.

"Additionally, another requirement for delisting is that state plans facilitate the maintenance of a "meta-population" of wolves throughout the recovery area--primarily for genetic reasons, but also because the biological heath of wolf populations depends upon relatively low densities but large populations spread across the landscape in viable territories. (This requirement is simple wildlife ecology). Unfortunately, both Idaho and Wyoming's plans, by their lethal restrictions on wolf dispersal and expansion, intentionally obstruct the functioning of a wolf metapopulation.

"Finally, I would point out that the FEIS and the Final Rule identified the entire State of Wyoming as part of the recovery area. That means that there must be an adequate regulatory mechanism for wolf conservation and management throughout the entire State before wolves can be delisted.

"Given these facts, Wyoming's plan violates both the ESA and the best available science. The five Congressmen's letter to Secretary Kempthorne opposing delisting at this time is entirely appropriate. They have my thanks for signing and dispatching that letter.

"Clearly, Wyoming's plan is a plan for re-extinction of wolves, not their conservation. Should under intense political pressure the FWS go ahead and delist wolves next month, lawsuits opposing delisting will immediately follow. I have no doubt but that they will be successful; the legal violations are particularly blatant. Successful environmental lawsuits willput wolf delisting back to ground zero, with a clear requirement from the courts that the Wyoming legislature reclassify wolves statewide as trophy game before wolf delisting.

"How long will it take the Wyoming legislature to see reason and agree to treat wolves like any other wildlife species?

"Senator, had the Wyoming Legislature originally classified wolves as trophy game throughout the State--a classification that meets the requirement for an adequate regulatory mechanism--wolves would have been successfully delisted three years ago. As it is now, all we have is the all too typical Western grandstanding about states rights and the "Wyoming way." In the face of such ludicrous grandstanding, no one should be surprised that we are going to court to prevent wolf delisting. It is the intransigence of Wyoming's livestock and big game outfitting industries, not to mention the intransigence of Wyoming's legislature, that has burdened the citizens of this state with additional wolf litigation.

"In closing, Senator Barrasso, I hope that in the future that you acquaint yourself with the facts of an issue before speaking out on it. That's the only way to be part of the solution, not the problem. That solution clearly involves a recognition by legislators and special interests that the "Wyoming way" of wolf management is not going to fly either in the law courts or the court of public opinion. It also involves an understanding on your part, as well as the part of Senator Enzi and Representative Cubin, that the Wyoming Congressional Delegation represents all the people of Wyoming. This is, quite frankly, a problem; progressives in this state definitely feel that they have little representation in Congress. I will say that your predecessor Senator Thomas eventually adopted the point of view that he represented everyone, with some benefit for Wyoming citizens.

"So, believe it or not, Senator, a considerable number of people in this state support the presence of wolves and also support sustainable management of wolves, not their wholesale slaughter. For a large number of us, treating wolves as predatory animals throughout the State is unacceptable.As long as Wyoming insists on treating wolves as predatory animals, then we will not support delisting and we will support the lawsuits against delisting."Thank you for your consideration.

Very sincerely yours,
Robert Hoskins"

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  • Pinedale Online > News > January 2008 > Dubois environmentalist responds to Barrasso on wolves

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