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Wolves in Vermont
Published: Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Judge J. Garvin Murtha's decision to block the federal government from halting restoration of wolves in the Northeast is important for reasons that have nothing directly to do with wildlife.
What is significant in last week's court ruling was the judge's recognition that policies regarding endangered species ought to be based on sound science and include thorough public comment. Both were missing from the U.S. Department of the Interior's latest proposal regarding wolf restoration.
Wildlife officials agree that efforts to restore wolves to remote areas of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota have been successful, to the point that many support the federal call to move that the animal there from the endangered list to the threatened category.
But the federal government suggested it also wanted to include the Northeastern states in that decision, even though there is no evidence the wolves are returning to New York, New Hampshire, Vermont or Maine.
As a result of the Interior proposal, the Fish and Wildlife Service indicated it might reduce protections for wolves in this region.
These decisions were based not on sound science, but geography. Murtha correctly ruled against that policy, finding that Fish and Wildlife cannot arbitrarily lump together states with a healthier wolf population and those where wolves remain endangered.
The Bush administration ought to resist any urge to appeal this decision and instead work with biologists in the Northeast to craft a solid recommendation based on the science of the animal and the region.
Then that proposal ought to be vetted at public hearings to ensure it meets with public support. After all, people throughout the Northeast will have to work cooperatively with wildlife officials to make remote areas home to wolves if that is the eventual finding.
There are questions that remain regarding wolf restoration in this region. Among those:
Should the gray or red wolf be included in this work? Scientists disagree over which is native to this region.
What impact would these changes have on Vermont's wildlife population, including moose and deer?
Would wolf packs make a home in Vermont or simply use this state as a travel lane to reach more remote areas of New York, New Hampshire and Maine?
How would Vermont farm livestock be impacted by the presence of wolves?
Murtha's decision doesn't mean that wolves will be returning to Vermont. But the ruling is likely to result in a smarter restoration recommendation from Washington that wins public backing. That would be a good outcome.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM Pacific
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