Endangered listing for gray wolf threatens
* California Fish and Game Commission was wrong on law and on
* Under state endangered species law, panel should not have
ignored population elsewhere in West
* Endangered listing prevents sensible protections against wolf
by DAMIEN SCHIFF Special to The Sacramento Bee 1/5/16
Dozens of lambs killed in a single night, aborted calves,
chronically stressed cows. These destructive scenarios could
await ranchers in far Northern California and their animals
thanks to the California Fish and Game Commission’s indefensible
move to list the gray wolf as “endangered.”
Criticized by a dissenting commissioner as “the stupidest
decision” the panel has ever made, the listing last month will
hamstring landowners’ efforts to safeguard their livestock and
livelihoods if gray wolves begin to establish themselves after a
long absence from the state.
Damien Schiff Damien Schiff Dave Kim A small pack has taken up
residence in Siskiyou County near the Oregon border. Although it
may not permanently settle there, the discovery of the Shasta
pack should signal state regulators that they need to work with
landowners on sensible protections. Instead, the rigid
regulations under an “endangered” listing make that practically
The listing doesn’t just create perils for ranchers, farmers and
the rural economies that depend on them, it’s also bad science
and bad law. Indeed, the federal government is moving to do the
opposite – take the gray wolf off the federal endangered list
because its numbers are healthy when considered as a whole,
through much of the West and the northern Midwest.
The commission managed to label this animal as “endangered” only
by willfully ignoring its populations outside California. Such
parochialism, however, is not allowed under a proper reading of
state law, which requires analysis of a species throughout “all,
or a significant portion, of its range.”
Gray wolves were already protected in California as a “nongame
mammal,” a legal arrangement that allowed flexible control. In
contrast, under the state “endangered” listing, it will be next
to impossible for landowners to get permits to kill or even
remove a wolf that is threatening their animals. State officials
would also run into red tape if they were to try to capture or
kill a wolf.
In November, Siskiyou County ranchers came across wolves gnawing
a calf carcass; state officials are calling it a probable wolf
kill. If the wolf population becomes established and grows, and
meaningful defenses are outlawed, California could see a repeat
of what happened in Idaho. After federal officials introduced
wolves in the mid-1990s – and banned protective measures by
landowners – Idaho ranches suffered years of attacks. As Beef
magazine reported in 2010, wolves were known to brazenly enter
calving pens at night. The presence of wolves also agitated
livestock, resulting in disrupted grazing, lower pregnancy
rates, weight loss and trampled calves.
California’s Endangered Species Act is expressly limited to
native species and subspecies. Yet the gray wolves that have
been added to the list are originally from Canada, representing
a subspecies of wolf that was never present in California.
In fact, the listing process was triggered by the discovery of a
single wolf – OR-7 – that didn’t even permanently reside in the
state, but rather crossed the Oregon border in 2011 and later
crossed back. Never before had a listing been initiated on the
basis of one animal’s occasional wanderings into the state – a
fact that led the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to
unsuccessfully recommend against the listing.
Ironically, this legally dubious listing of a non-native wolf is
a threat to genuine native animals that state regulators are
supposed to be concerned about.
The wolf is an iconic species that arouses strong emotions in
the environmental and livestock communities. But passion can’t
be allowed to trump facts or the requirements of the law. The
commission has overstepped its authority. It should recognize
its error in listing the wolf and start anew.
Damien Schiff is a principal attorney with the Pacific Legal
Foundation, a Sacramento-based litigation firm. He can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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