Gray wolves finally caught a break last week when an overflow crowd gave testimony and provided 2,600 comments to the California Fish and Game Commission in Ventura. The commissioners voted to delay their decision on extending Endangered Species Act protection to gray wolves for an additional 90 days, according to a press release from Center for Biological Diversity.
“This is a huge victory for gray wolves who are clearly trying to return to California where they lived for generations,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center. “It gives me great hope that rather than simply rubber-stamping the state’s recommendation not to protect wolves, the commissioners wisely decided to take a broader look at making sure wolves get a chance to recover here. I think the Commission realizes that’s what’s right, that’s what Californians want and that’s what the law says.”
On the federal level, wolves, a species that was pushed to the brink of extinction in the mid-70’s, have been under attack since 2011 when the US Fish and Wildlife Service began removing ESA safeguards and delisting them as state management plans were being created.
Far too often, say wildlife conservationists, decisions relating to wolves as top apex predators in their ecosystems are based on political pressures and flawed science without a clear understanding of the beneficial role they play in every aspect from controlling deer and elk populations to having an influence on the flow of rivers.
There is a rare, but extraordinary influence on rivers caused by the presence of wolves in the ecosystem. It is called a Trophic Cascade, which is explained by George Monbiot, in a YouTube video featured by National Geographic.
When wolves are reintroduced to an area it causes deer and elk populations to avoid places where they could easily be trapped. Over time, it allows regeneration of vegetation and trees attracting more wildlife back into the regions that play critical roles in healthy riparian habitats.
Moreover, strong wolf populations are clearly important for economic reasons.
Yellowstone National Park disperses $70 million a year into the surrounding Northern Rockies communities from wildlife tourism, of which wolves are a vital attraction.
The California Fish and Game Commission’s decision to delay action on the protection of gray wolves last week is a victory, but it will also give more time for ranchers to weigh in on the debate.
“It’s important to understand that regulatory actions like those discussed today are not a substitute for state protections for wolves,” said Weiss. “There’s no doubt the wolf meets the listing criteria. The commissioners don’t have the discretion to acknowledge that then to create a special fix just because this is a controversial species. They must follow the law.”
The comment period has been reopened and another public hearing will be held June 4 at the Northern California town of Fortuna.