The presidential election last fall gave many environmentalists new hope, but the Obama administration has since outraged many gray wolf advocates by upholding a Bush-era decision to take them off the endangered species list in over half a dozen states.
After being nearly wiped out in most of the country, recovery efforts in the last two decades have helped the wolf population in the Northern Rockies rebound to what is now an estimated 1,645 wolves or more. Federal officials – and many ranchers and politicians who have long complained about the impact of wolves on livestock and big game herds – say that's enough. But some environmentalists strongly disagree, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). They recently joined other groups in filing a lawsuit in Montana that could temporarily block the resumption of regulated wolf hunts there.
[Female Mexican gray wolf yearling born in 2007 at the California Wolf Center. Photo: Roy Toft, California Wolf Center]
Amidst what has often been cast as a bitter fight between two sides, the NRDC’s Senior Wildlife Advocate Louisa Willcox and local Montana rancher Becky Weed have been working with several ranching groups to come up with new solutions. As a special feature of our current environmental campaign, Freedom to Roam, Patagonia decided to interview these individuals to highlight their willingness to engage in constructive dialogue and search for new alternatives to old environmental problems. We also wanted to understand more about a complicated issue many of us care deeply about. Their answers, provided by email, are below:
Q: Was the Obama administration’s decision on the Northern Rockies gray wolves a surprise, given the expected change in approach of the administration on environmental issues?
Becky Weed (rancher): The administration’s decision was not shocking, although I was a little surprised that it came as quickly as it did. I do not see this decision as a sign that the Obama administration is in lockstep with the previous administration by any stretch of the imagination. The more revealing steps will come as we see how the delisting details are handled now that a delisting process is underway.
Louisa Willcox (NRDC): The Department of Interior’s decision to delist Northern Rockies gray wolves was a big disappointment. The decision was announced in March, before the administration had put key high-level officials in the Department of Interior and a new director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in place. We do not believe they adequately reviewed the Bush rule, which has significant problems - problems so severe that we are challenging the decision in court