Feb 7 The Obama administration used flawed
research in devising a plan to strip gray wolves across the
continental United States of Endangered Species Act protections,
and discounted evidence that failed to support it, a scientific
panel said in a report released on Friday.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said last June said wolves
in the lower 48 states no longer faced extinction after decades
of recovery efforts and proposed removing them from the U.S.
threatened and endangered species list. (Report on wolves: r.reuters.com/quz66v)
Distinct wolf populations in the Northern Rockies and
western Great Lakes were already delisted in recent years as
their numbers rebounded in those regions.
The administration latest plan renewed a debate between
supporters and opponents of wolves, which were hunted, trapped
and poisoned to near extinction in the continental United States
before coming under federal safeguards in the 1970s.
Ranchers and hunters blame wolves for preying on livestock
and big game. Conservationists say the wolf, an apex predator,
has helped restore ecosystems strained by an overabundance of
wildlife such as elk and deer.
The wildlife service in August placed its nationwide wolf
delisting proposal on hold after outcries by critics who claimed
the government's process was slanted toward removing
The agency last year asked the National Center for
Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of
California at Santa Barbara to appoint a panel of independent
scientists to review the delisting plan.
The Fish and Wildlife Service on Friday released the panel's
report, which said the agency failed to use the "best available
science," as required, to conclude nationwide delisting is
The government also relied on a single publication by the
wildlife service that has been refuted by leading wolf experts
and geneticists, and rejected data that did not support the
plan, according to the report.
"Information contrary to the proposed delisting is
discounted whereas that which supports the (plan) are accepted
uncritically," wrote panelist Robert Wayne, a wolf geneticist at
The wildlife service on Monday will reopen the proposal for
public comment for 45 days in light of the findings, which the
agency is reviewing, said Seth Willey, regional recovery
coordinator in Denver. A final decision is expected this year.
Willey said several wolf packs are known to exist in Oregon
and Washington state, and wolves have wandered from the Northern
Rockies into such states as Colorado.
The proposal in question would leave federal protections in
place for the Mexican wolf, a subspecies in Arizona and New
Mexico estimated to number in the 80s.
While wolves once roamed across nearly every corner of the
continental United States, Willey said the Endangered Species
Act does not require re-establishing a species to its full
historic range in order to prevent extinction.
The comeback of wolves - which now number in the thousands
in the lower 48 - is an "amazing success" tied to the nation's
landmark conservation law, he said.
Conservation groups on Friday hailed the panel's findings,
which are sure to be used to challenge the delisting in court if
"We've known all along there was political motivation behind
the delisting proposal, and the panel's review underlined that,"
said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by
Steve Gorman and Lisa Shumaker)