Most Americans know federal wolf recovery in the northern Rockies has been enormously successful. What you may not know...

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Most Americans know federal wolf recovery in the northern Rockies has been enormously successful. What you may not know is that with one pen stroke, it could all be gone — and with it, any hope for wolves to return to the Pacific Northwest.

The federal government is about to propose removing protections for wolves in the northern Rockies and parts of Oregon, Washington and Utah.

Most everyone agrees returning management of wolves to state agencies after they have recovered is a mark of success, but if states plan to promptly kill 75 percent or more of their wolves, the federal government has no business passing the baton.

While the federal Endangered Species Act required Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to develop state wolf-management plans before delisting can occur, only Montana’s provides the appropriate safeguards needed to conserve wolves and address human concerns.

Idaho’s wolf plan leads off by saying that wolves should be removed by “whatever means necessary,” and Idaho’s governor has announced he intends to have 550 of the state’s 650 wolves killed. He even said he wants to be first in line to take the first shot.

Wyoming’s plan is just as irresponsible; it would allow wolves to be shot on sight in nearly 90 percent of the state, using extreme measures such as gunning down entire packs of wolves from airplanes. Wyoming is even demanding 16 of its 23 packs be killed immediately after the delisting.

Unbelievably, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved Idaho’s plan and now has said it will approve Wyoming’s, too, describing this gesture as “handing over an olive branch.” An olive branch is a symbol of peace, however, not a license to slaughter.

Since Oregon, Washington and Utah were not part of the northern Rockies recovery zone, none of those states was required to create state wolf plans as a precursor to delisting wolves. All three, however, have good wolf habitat and have been briefly visited by northern Rockies wolves traveling west.

As a result, Oregon and Utah created state wolf plans, and Washington is just starting that process. Federal protections are still needed in these states, to allow traveling wolves to recolonize safely on their own.

And federal protections are still needed in the northern Rockies until Idaho and Wyoming come up with wolf-conservation, not wolf-killing, plans. If these two states are allowed to kill most of their wolves, there won’t be enough wolves to migrate west. That means that Oregon, Utah and Washington, which could have been part of this great American conservation success story, will likely never see a recovered wolf population and never get to manage their own wolves.

Why should we care if wolves get the chance to return to our region? For starters, nature benefits greatly from the wolf’s return. Wolves prefer to feed on animals like elk and deer but will naturally go after the old, young, weak and sick animals first — not the large, healthy animals that hunters prefer. Wolves also cause animals like elk to be wary and stay on the move, reducing the browsing of woody brush like willow and aspen and allowing it to grow more thickly. This makes great songbird habitat and provides trees and sticks for beaver dams, which create cool deep ponds for juvenile fish. What fly fisherman wouldn’t welcome that?

And, wolves bring in lots of money to the local economies where they’ve been recovered. A 2006 study determined that tourists wanting to view wolves have brought $35 million annually into the northern Rockies regional economy. That income can help fund schools, libraries, police forces and fire departments.

But, if the federal delisting proposal goes through, we won’t be seeing any of those benefits in the Pacific Northwest, because the northern Rockies wolves that should be allowed to head west will instead be reduced by the states of Idaho and Wyoming to a shadow of their current numbers.

The Bush administration seems more intent on appeasing Idaho and Wyoming than ensuring that wolves continue to thrive. Politics, not science or common sense, seems to be guiding the delisting decision.

Amaroq Weiss is director of Western species conservation with Defenders of Wildlife, www.defenders.org, and is based in Ashland, Ore.