Bring order to chaotic gray wolf situation

Bozeman Daily Chronicle

by Editorial

Amid what can only be called the chaos that has become the wolf-management debate, a couple of voices of sanity have emerged. Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester have proposed resolving the impasse of litigation with a simple measure to clarify federal officials’ authority under the Endangered Species Act.

Their proposal would not repeal, gut or dilute the original ESA. It would simply authorize the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to set different levels of protections in different political jurisdictions.

The wolf-reintroduction program in the greater Yellowstone area can only be called a resounding success. From only a few dozen wolves brought into the region nearly 15 years ago, more than 1,600 now inhabit the region.

It has been so successful that federal officials removed the wolves from ESA protections in Montana and Idaho, states that had developed reasonable wolf-management plans, but not in Wyoming, where state leaders have insisted that wolves will be shot on sight over most of the state.

The success hasn’t come without a price. Throughout the region, wolves have preyed on livestock. Hunters have decried the wolves’ predation on elk and other wild ungulates as disastrous. And wolf advocates have been just as passionate in their rhetoric. The war of words over this predator is only mildly less acrimonious now than it was in the 1990s when it all began.

Perhaps most irritating about this ongoing debate, is the never-ending trail of lawsuits that have dragged the argument into our courtrooms.

The most recent of that litigation resulted in an August ruling from a federal judge who ordered ESA protections be restored for wolves because, according to his reading of the law, ESA protections cannot be determined by political boundaries, i.e., state lines. This despite the fact that wildlife is routinely accorded different protections on either side of a national park boundary.

The Baucus-Tester bill addresses this one thing. It will amend the ESA so that federal officials can designate different protections for a species on either side of a political boundary.

This is a simple, common-sense measure that will allow Montana and Idaho officials to resume strictly controlled hunting and other management measures that will re-establish the uneasy truce between landowners and the wolves.

This should be a bipartisan effort that earns swift action in Congress. Let’s restore some order to the chaos and pass it into law.