WILDLIFE: Fear dominates wolf delisting debate

No matter what side of the argument you look at, fear seems to be the dominating factor in the ongoing debate over delisting gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act.

Conservationists fear that delisting the wolf (or otherwise changing the rules against wolf hunting) will destroy one of the all-time great successes in endangered species management, and send the wolf population in the Northern Rockies plummeting from 1,500 to as little as 200.

Hunters fear that wolf populations will eat up their precious elk and moose, leaving them nothing to shoot.

Farmers fear wolves will chomp on their livestock, leaving them nothing to sell.

State governments fear the loss of local control due to federal oversight. They also fear the loss of tax revenue from hunters and farmers, leaving them nothing to spend.

Wolves fear bullets. (That one's pretty simple.)

And meanwhile, all sorts of people seem to be chomping at the bit for the chance to shoot themselves a wolf or six.

Wolves could be delisted from the Endangered Species Act as early as next month, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After that, the states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana would be able to set their own hunting seasons for wolves, which would be allowed to continue until the number of wolves drops below 300, at which time they would be added back to the Endangered Species List.

A lesser rule, also issued by Fish and Wildlife, would give the three states permission to kill wolves if they are having undue impact on local elk and deer populations. But if the delisting goes into effect, this second rule drops out in favor of the more extreme one.

Will any of this happen? We'll see. A lawsuit from Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society of the United States, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, and Friends of the Clearwater seeks to block the delisting.

Keep your fingers and paws crossed.

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