Congressman Calls For "Wolf Safety Zone" Around Yellowstone National Park, Says Fish And Wildlife Service Acting "Irrationally" On Wolf Recovery

A congressman from Oregon is calling on Interior Secretary Sally Jewell work with Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho officials to develop a "wolf safety zone" around Yellowstone National Park, saying without one the health of the park's wolf populations will suffer.

Rep. Pete DeFazio, D-Oregon, also took time Tuesday to take the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to task for working to undermine wolf recovery efforts in the Lower 48, arguing that the agency has used shoddy science to defend the delisting of gray wolves.

In his letter to Secretary Jewell, the Democrat blamed hunting of wolves just beyond Yellowstone's borders for a decline in the overall wolf population in the park, telling Secretary Jewell that "(F)or over three years, the population of gray wolves in Yellowstone has steadily decreased as a result of hunting-related deaths. According to wildlife biologists, Yellowstone's wolf population dropped 25 percent between 2011 and 2012. The National Park Service reports that as of March 1, 2013, 12 Yellowstone National Park wolves were legally harvested just outside the park borders."

The congressman attributed the problem to Congress's move in 2011 to pass a budget amendment that "revived a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule to delist the gray wolf in Idaho, Montana, parts of Oregon and Washington. In addition to reinstating the rule -- which had previously been struck down by a federal judge -- the rider waived any further judicial review and effectively devolved management authority and responsibility for gray wolf survival to the states. The (Fish and Wildlife) Service prematurely delisted wolves in Wyoming the following year."

Yellowstone biologists, however, reported a 15 percent decline in the park's wolf population from 2010 through 2012. Looking at a greater time period, the park in its 2012 annual wolf management report noted that "(T)he wolf population has declined by about 50 percent since 2007 mostly because of a smaller elk population, the main food of northern range wolves." The report did, however, also note "(S)tate-managed wolf hunts contributed to the 2012 decline by removing 12 YNP wolves adjacent to the park."

In his letter, Rep. DeFazio asked Secretary Jewell to "undertake a concerted and coordinated effort to work with the states to establish a uniform wolf saety zone or buffer around Yellowstone National Park. Additionally, I respectfully request your leadership in establishing an Interagency Wolf Task Force for the purpose of coordinating across the federal and state agencies to protect park wolves from adverse effects of trophy hunting and other causes of human-induced mortality in all National Parks with wolf populations."

In a letter, also penned Tuesday, to Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe about the agency's stance on wolf delisting, the congressman who is the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources complained that the agency "continues to be irrationally committed to delisting the gray wolf in disregard of the best available science and the fact that the recovery of gray wolves is far from complete. ...I find it particularly troubling that you continue to defend the 'science' upon which you base this proposal; even in the face of having it rejected by your own peer reviewers, eminent scientists, and wolf experts who unanimously found that 'the rule does not represent the best available science."

In short, the Service's recent view on gray wolf taxonomy and what constitutes recovery under the ESA are just the latest scientifically and legally dubious rationales for achieving a political goal -- the end of Federal wolf recovery efforts in the vast majority of the species' historic range. I find it both ironic and tragic that the Service is quick to declare victory in the recovery of gray wolves, while at the same time it has eliminated federal protection and subjected the species to some of the very same aggressive wolf control tactics that were responsible for eliminating the species from the lower 48 states. The most recent example of duplicity can be found in the Service's announcement that the lone wolf known as OR-7 had found a mate and produced pups this spring, while at the same time you ar working to eliminate the very federal protections that made this recent success possible and which could put that newly formed wolf pack at risk of survival.

It is remarkable that we would spend 20 years or more committed to the recovery of this species only to see it vanish well before the job has been completed. That is not only irresponsible, it is shameful, and I do not believe it is the goal of the (Endangered Species Act). In short, I find the morphing explanation based upon science which has failed a peer review to be unworthy of your agency. You can look forward to vigorous future action from me on this matter should you not administratively put the agency on the right course.