Attempts in Congress to give state managers more latitude to deal with two of the most polarizing predators in the Northwest these days are going in opposite directions.
Yesterday saw the US Senate pass a bill that would expand where sea lions could be removed on the Columbia River system, and while the House of Representatives must still concur, a bill delisting gray wolves passed last month by the lower chamber will not go anywhere in the upper house in December, it now appears.
The Manage Our Wolves Act, cosponsored by two Eastern Washington Republican representatives will likely die in the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works as federal lawmakers’ workload piles up at the end of the two-year session.
Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) indicated federal budgetary issues would take precedence, according to a report from the DC Bureau of the McClatchy news service.
And even if the Republican-controlled Senate were to still pass the bill in 2019, with November’s election changing the balance of power in the House, a spokeswoman for the new chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), told wire reporter Kellen Browning flatly that the panel won’t be moving any delisting legislation while he is in charge over the next two years.
It’s probably best to let the biologists determine when a species is recovered rather than run things through Congress like this, but that also takes time and meanwhile frustrations mount over very real concerns and unintended consequences of 1970s’ environmental protections, and the drag-it-out-in-the-courts approach the laws have inspired in some in the environmental community.
In the case of the wolves of the river, Marine Mammal Protection Act-listed sea lions are taking unacceptably large bites out of Endangered Species Act-listed Columbia salmon and steelhead, putting their recovery — not to mention the tens, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on it — in the watershed at increasing risk.
With pushing from fishermen, state wildlife agencies, tribal managers, even conservation organizations, a bipartisan coalition of Northwest senators and representatives has now been able get sea lion bills passed in both houses of Congress this year.
But even as we live in an era when the back door to delistings and amended protections is being opened wider and wider, it appears that for the time being we’ll need to go through the front one, the traditional way, to clear the wolves of the woods off the ESA list.
Back in June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly announced that it had begun to review the status of the species in the Lower 48 for, what, the third? fourth? time since the early 2000s due to court actions.
That could lead to the delisting of gray wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington, Oregon and elsewhere in their range, handing over management from USFWS to WDFW, ODFW and other agencies.
This morning I asked the feds for an update on how that was proceeding and they sent me a statement that was very similar to one they emailed out around the summer solstice.
Here’s what today’s said:
“The USFWS is currently reviewing the status of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Working closely with our federal, state, tribal and local partners, we will assess the currently listed gray wolf entities in the lower 48 states using the best available scientific information. On completion of the review, the Service will, if appropriate, publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register. Any proposal will follow a robust, transparent and open public process that will provide opportunity for public comment.”
With six long months ahead of it, June’s version had this as the third sentence: “If appropriate, the Service will publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register by the end of the calendar year.”
Now it’s more open-ended.
And comparing a second paragraph USFWS sent along as background, the update has removed the words “under the previous administration,” a reference to the 2013 proposal by the Obama Administration’s USFWS Director Dan Ashe.
The rest of that para touches on the “sound science” that went into that determination and the court action that subsequently derailed it.
It sounds like the science is strong with the sea lion removal authorization, so let’s hope that once the House agrees and president signs it, it isn’t challenged in court, and if it is, that it clears the hurdles that are thrown up — and which lead to bypassing the judicial system all together.