DENVER — Canadian gray wolves are by all accounts thriving in the Northern Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes region, but getting the wolf’s removal from the Endangered Species List won’t be easy.
Even as children in rural New Mexico take refuge from wolves in “kid cages” at school bus stops, wildlife lovers and environmentalists are fighting tooth and nail the proposal by the Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the species.
The standoff over wolves comes as the latest example of conflict over the Endangered Species Act, which marks its 40th anniversary this year amid what critics describe as its use as a tool by environmental groups to stunt economic growth and development.
“As is obvious with the wolf, we’re talking about a species that is not in danger of extinction by any definition or any standard,” said Greg Walcher, former head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and author of Smoking Them Out: The Theft of the Environment and How to Take It Back (American Tradition Institute, 2013.).
“There’s no way you can escape the conclusion that there’s some agenda at work here other than the Endangered Species Act or other than the environment. It’s all about power and money and control,” Mr. Walcher said. “There’s a reason they haven’t reintroduced grizzly bears in California, and of course there’s a lot of cynical Westerners like me who say if they want to reintroduce wolves, let’s put them in Boulder where they want them. But that isn’t where they go.”
Advocates oppose delisting
Wolf advocates may or may not have the facts on their side, but there’s no doubt they have the passion: Every one of the 100-plus speakers at the agency’s hearing last week in Denver’s Paramount Theater testified against the delisting proposal. Some of them cried during their comments, while others waved signs and wore wolf hats.
“I beg you guys not to delist these animals,” said Phillip Trella, a volunteer at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Divide. “Don’t be blinded by the politics of those who wish to hunt and massacre these beautiful creatures. To exterminate the wolves is downright wrong. Wolves cannot vote, but those who embrace them can.”
And Colorado doesn’t even have wolves in the wild, at least not yet. But the turnout at the Denver hearing was typical of what the Fish and Wildlife Service has encountered as it gathers public comments in anticipation of a 2014 ruling.
“Over 900,000 public comments have been submitted, and probably 90 percent of those are against delisting the wolf,” said David Spady, a filmmaker and media consultant with Americans for Prosperity-California. “The support for the wolf is very adamant, especially within those groups, and it has taken on this iconic sort of mystical status with a lot of these environmental groups.”
Drowned out in the din are the voices of rural Westerners who have struggled to live alongside the predators. They are the focus of Mr. Spady’s 2013 documentary, “Wolves in Government Clothing.”
Mr. Spady spoke in Denver as part of a screening tour for his film, funded by Americans for Prosperity, which he is bringing to every city on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s public hearing schedule.
Tourism versus safety
The wolves have drawn tourists to Yellowstone National Park, but they’ve also brought economic challenges and public safety concerns to rural communities across the Northern Rockies, where the animals were flown in by helicopter from Canada and released in 1996 as part of the federal government’s wolf-restoration program.
In the film, residents talk about losing livestock, horses and dogs to wolves, along with hunting revenue stemming from depleted elk and deer herds. Wolf attacks on humans are rare, but locals say they’ve been frightened by wolves approaching them on remote roads and appearing on front porches.