Wolves, wild horses, bison & budget cuts

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2011:
WASHINGTON D.C.–Removed from Endangered Species Act
protection by a policy rider, wolves in Montana and Idaho are among
the most prominent animal casualties of the Fiscal Year 2011
Continuing Resolution signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama
on April 15, 2011.
Wolves in Michigan and Wisconsin are beneficiaries of
Congressional budget-cutting, at least pending further legislation,
because the short-term funding act that preceded the FY 2011
Continuing Resolution axed the federal budget for killing “problem”
wolves in those states.

The Northern Rockies wolf policy rider, attached to the FY
2011 Continuing Resolution by Montana Senator Jon Tester and Idaho
Representative Mike Simpson, requires the removal of wolves from
Endangered Species Act protection in Montana, Idaho, Utah, Oregon,
and Washington. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has pledged that
this will be done by June 15, 2011.
Stripped of protection will be about 1,300 of the 1,650
wolves now inhabiting the Northwest, most of whom are descended from
66 Canadian wolves who were released in Yellowstone National Park and
Idaho in 1995. Montana and Idaho are expected to declare wolf
hunting seasons with high quotas as soon as the delisting becomes
Wolves in Wyoming remain protected, pending the outcome of a
lawsuit by the state against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for
rejecting the state’s wolf management plan. The Wyoming management
plan, summarized Cory Hatch of the Jackson Hole News & Guide, would
categorize wolves as an unwanted predator in about 88% of the state,
meaning that wolves “could be killed any time, by any means, and
without a license.” Wolves would be tolerated only in the parts of
Wyoming that are adjacent to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national
parks. “Wyoming lawmakers managed to insert language into the FY
2011 Continuing Resolution specifying that it would not affect the
state’s lawsuit,” Hatch wrote.
Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Senators
Ben Cardin of Maryland and Barbara Boxer of California were among the
few nembers of Congress who spoke in favor of continued protection
for wolves.
“The only question remaining,” said Bozeman Chronicle staff
writer Daniel Person, “is how many animals the states will allow
hunters to take.”
Recalled Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral, “In
March 2009, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar activated a Bush
administration plan to delist wolves in the Northern Rockies from the
Endangered Species Act. Five hundred wolves were shot that year in
Idaho and Montana by hunters and federal agents.”
Responding to a lawsuit brought by 13 environmental groups
and the Humane Society of the U.S., federal District Judge Molloy
returned wolves throughout the region to the endangered species list
in August 2010. The Simpson and Tester budget rider undid Molloy’s
verdict and was admittedly written to try to keep Molloy from having
any further opportunity to rule on the status of wolves.
“Wolves were in a particularly weak position at this point,”
said Feral, “as several environmental groups had just attempted to
cut a settlement deal to remove ESA protections from wolves,” in
advance of the Congressional intervention.
“Molloy refused to accept that settlement,” Feral continued,
“on two main grounds. First, Malloy had already ruled that the 2009
delisting was legally flawed, and declined to go back on that
ruling. Second, the settlement wouldn’t satisfy all the parties,
especially the four environmental groups that rightly wanted to keep
their original court victory.
“While the case awaited review before the 9th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals,” the other 10 members of the coalition that filed
the case against the 2009 delisting “negotiated a settlement with the
federal government,” Feral explained. “The deal would have let
Montana and Idaho manage their wolves while FWS reworked its
delisting rules and implemented better scientific monitoring of the
wolf population.”
“Immediately after Judge Molloy’s ruling against the
delisting scheme, Senator Tester started talking about delisting
wolves as part of his political campaign. Tester, a cattle rancher,
is battling Representative Denny Rehberg in the 2012 election, and
apparently thinks the biggest wolf-hater will garner the most votes,”
Feral charged.
Idaho Governor Butch Otter in October 2010 ordered the Idaho
Fish & Game Department to quit responding to reports of illegal wolf
killing. On April 19, 2011 Otter signed legislation which directs
him to issue an executive order declaring a statewide wolf “disaster
“We have about 700 wolves in Idaho right now– almost 20%
less than last year,” responded Defenders of Wildlife regional
representative Suzanne Stone, “so population growth appears to be
leveling off. And not a single person has been injured by a wolf in
Idaho since the species was restored.”
ESA listing process
The FY 2011 Continuing Resolution was only the second time
Congress overrode Endangered Species Act requirements in the 37 years
that the law has been in effect. The first Congressional override,
in 1979, permitted completion of the Tellico Dam in Tennessee,
which was expected to bring about the extinction of a tiny fish
called the snail darter. The snail darter, discovered when the dam
was nearly built, recovered instead of disappearing, and was
eventually removed from the federal Endangered Species list.
“The president could have used some political capital to
influence this,” on behalf of the Yellowstone region wolves, “and
he didn’t,” Vermont Law School professior of environmental law
Patrick Parenteau told Matthew Brown of Associated Press. “The
message to the environmental community,” Parenteau said, “is don’t
count on the administration to be there” for endangered species.
Assessed Brown, “The next potential blow to the law already
is looming. A 2012 budget request from the Department of Interior
would impose a sharp spending cap on a program that allows citizens
to petition for species to be listed as endangered. Those petitions
were used for the majority of the species added to the list over the
last four decades.”
The Obama administration has so far listed 59 species as
endangered. The George W. Bush administration listed 64 species in
eight years, after the Bill Clinton administration listed an average
of 65 species per year.
USDA Wildlife Services cut
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was notified on
April 11, 2011 that USDA Wildlife Services no longer has funding to
kill wolves who attack or threaten farm animals and pets. “Only
authorized federal trappers are allowed to trap or kill the wolves,
who otherwise are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act,”
explained Doug Smith of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
USDA’s Wildlife Services dispatched 192 wolves in Minnesota
in 2010, responding to reported wolf killings of “about 100 cows and
sheep and 15 dogs,” Smith wrote. “Twenty animals were injured [by
wolves], including eight dogs. Funding for the $727,000 program,
which also pays for wolf depredation efforts in Wisconsin and
Michigan, was cut on March 18 in a continuing resolution passed by
Congress to fund the government through April 8.
USDA Wildlife Services district supervisor John Hart ordered
his staff to “keep investigating wolf complaints and killing problem
wolves while alternative sources of money are sought,” reported Sam
Cook of the Duluth News Tribune.
About 3,200 wolves now inhabit Minnesota, with about 700
each in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The U.S. Fish
& Wildlife Service will soon try for the fourth time in eight years
“to remove Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves in the
western Great Lakes region,” predicted Associated Press
environmental writer John Flesher. But the Fish & Wildlife Service
has less money now for producing the required studies and fighting
court cases to either protect or delist endangered and threatened
species. The FY 2011 Continuing Resolution cut $140.6 million,
about 9%, from the Fish & Wildlife Service operating budget.

Wild horse captures funded

Wild horse advocates were hopeful that a 1.5% cut to the
Bureau of Land Management budget would halt wild horse roundups.
After the U.S. House of Representatives voted in February 2011 to cut
$2 million from the BLM budget, the BLM announced that fewer horses
would be impounded during the balance of the fiscal year.
However, the Senate Appropriations Committee stipulated in
announcing passage of the FY 2011 Continuing Resolution, “The amount
of funding provided will allow the Bureau to fully meet its funding
needs for the Wild Horse and Burro program.”
The full cost of capturing wild horses and keeping as many
corralled as remain on the range currently is about $64 million per
year, three times as much as in 2001. Seeking a less expensive way
to hold horses who are removed from BLM land, the BLM on March 29,
2011 announced that it “is seeking proposals for establishing
‘eco-sanctuaries’ for wild horses,” reported Mead Gruver of
Associated Press.
“The BLM said it would provide up to $40 million over five
years to establish the sanctuaries,” Gruver continued. “Half of the
grant money would be available for sanctuaries located on private and
public land within established wild horse herd areas, which are
located in 10 Western states. The other $20 million would fund
sanctuaries on private land that could be located in any part of the
U.S. Minimum requirements for a sanctuary,” Gruver said, “include
keeping at least 200 horses in good condition–thin enough to be able
to feel their ribs, not so thin that the animals look bony. Also,
horse sanctuaries would need to be open to the public in a way not
disruptive to the horses.”
Philanthropist Madeleine Pickens has for two years sought to
establish a wild horse sanctuary in rural Nevada which would appear
to meet the BLM requirements, but has run into intense political
“With all the financial trouble Nevada is in,” editorialized
Stephen Jackson of KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, “you might think state
lawmakers would welcome a project that will bring millions of dollars
to the state and attract tourists from around the world. But a panel
in the Nevada State Senate has turned thumbs down to a planned wild
horse sanctuary without even hearing from the investors who are
backing it.
“Pickens put her money where her mouth is,” Jackson noted.
“She ponied up $6 million to purchase two ranches and is spending
plenty to build her dream project.”
But the Nevada state senate natural resources committee
rejected Pickens’ project, which is vehemently opposed by the
longest serving committee member, Senator Dean Rhoads of Elko.
“Rhoads, a lifelong cattle rancher, leases tens of thousands of
acres of public land for his cows,” noted Jackson.
The Nevada state senate natural resources committee does not
actually have the authority to prevent Pickens from creating her
sanctuary, but does have the influence to make opening the sanctuary

Where the buffalo roam

The FY 2011 Continuing Resolution cut $127.2 million, about
5%, from the National Park Service budget.
Depending on how the National Park Service cuts are
allocated, less money may be available for hazing bison back into
Yellowstone National Park after they wander into Montana–which may
or may not be good news for the bison, depending on how Montana
state agencies respond.
Current Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, though eager to
open a wolf hunting season, has so far been more tolerant of bison
than generations of gubernatorial predecessors, who shared ranchers’
fears that Yellowstone bison might transmit the bacterial disease
brucellosis to domestic cattle. This has never actually happened,
but domestic cattle are believed to have introduced brucellosis to
the bison at some point more than 50 years ago. Currently about 40%
of the Yellowstone bison herd test positive for having had exposure
to brucellosis.
The Schweitzer administration in early April 2011 agreed to
allow Yellowstone bison to access and graze on 75,000 acres in the
Gardiner Basin of southern Montana, south of Yankee Jim Canyon.
Bison who migrate on toward Paradise Valley will be shot, as have
been about 3,800 bison during the past 20 years who merely left
Yellowstone. The newly opened habitat, however, may give the bison
adequate winter forage, without need to push further.
“While this is certainly a positive step, it is not a
perfect solution,” wrote Stephany Seay of Buffalo Field Campaign.
Bison “will only be allowed upon these critical lands from January 1
through May 1. Outside this four-month window,” Seay objected,
bison “will be aggressively hazed back into Yellowstone. National
Forest lands within this zone of tolerance will be open to hunting,
and the number of hunting tags will be greatly increased.
“While things are certainly moving in a more positive
direction,” Seay added, about 660 bison have been corralled after
trying to leave Yellowstone this past winter, “and their fate
remains uncertain.” Bison who left Yellowstone were to have been
trucked to slaughter, but Governor Schweitzer issued an executive
order prohibiting trucking bison through Montana, due to expire on
May 15.
“Yellowstone officials are currently stating that they intend
to release [the bison] later in the spring,” said Seay, “but
slaughter is still a possibility, and calving season is barely two
weeks away.”

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