CHEYENNE, Wyoming — Wyoming U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis and others in Congress are pushing the U.S. Department of Interior to end federal protections for wolves nationwide.
Lummis, Wyoming's lone U.S. representative, and more than 30 other members of Congress this week wrote to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Dan Ashe, head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, calling on them to implement a stalled 2013 federal plan to end protections for wolves under the federal Endangered Species Act. The lawmakers claim healthy wolf populations justify ending protections.
"Since wolves were first provided protections under the ESA, uncontrolled and unmanaged growth of wolf populations has resulted in devastating impacts on hunting and ranching, as well as tragic losses to historically healthy livestock and wildlife populations," the letter states.
A call to a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington wasn't immediately returned on Friday.
In response to challenges from environmental groups, federal courts recently reinstated protections for wolves in Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Legal appeals in Wyoming, Michigan and Wisconsin are pending and legislation is pending in Congress, sponsored by Lummis and others, that would reverse the court decisions.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington, D.C., last fall sided with environmental groups who challenged a Wyoming wolf management plan, which took effect in 2012. The state's plan had classified wolves in most of the state as predators that could be shot on sight.
The Wyoming Stock Growers Association is one of many groups that have weighed in to support the state of Wyoming in its appeal of Jackson's decision. Jim Magagna, association spokesman, said Friday his group supports the push by Lummis and others to delist wolves nationwide. But he said that because some organizations "thrive off of keeping the challenge to the delisting of wolves moving forward," any delisting that isn't approved by Congress will probably just lead to more litigation.
Congress already has specified that there may be no further legal challenges to decisions to end federal protection for wolves in Idaho and Montana.
Others in Congress have warned Jewell that bowing to political pressure to strip protections from wolves would undercut the Endangered Species Act.
Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and more than 70 other members of Congress wrote to Jewell last month saying the Fish and Wildlife Service's focus on removing wolves from federal protection not only ignores science but poses a threat to the credibility of the agency and the long-term viability of the Endangered Species Act itself.
"Republicans would have more credibility on this issue if they ever found a species that needs more protection rather than less," Adam Sarvana, communications director for House Natural Resources Committee Democrats, said Friday. "Unfortunately, it's always the same message: we need to gut the Endangered Species Act and let the animals fend for themselves."
Tim Preso, a lawyer with Earthjustice in Bozeman, Montana, represented a coalition of environmental groups in their challenge to wolf delisting in Wyoming.
"One of the fundamental principles that our society adopted with the Endangered Species Act was that we would manage these species based on science, not political whims," Preso said. "And all these measures represent an effort for politics to trump science, and I think in the long run, we'll be the poorer for that."