12 April 2011


WOLF HUNT. From the Washington Post: "U.S. District Judge Donald Malloy in Missoula .... has denied a proposed settlement agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and 10 conservation groups that would have lifted endangered species protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho .... [an] agreement that could have led to public hunting of some 1300 wolves in the two states. In the 24-page decision, Molloy cited the court's lack of authority to put part of an endangered species population under state management and expose that population to hunting, noting 'Congress has clearly determined that animals on the ESA must be protected' .... He also said he couldn't approve the settlement proposed in March because not all the parties involved with the case agreed with it. Part of the argument for the settlement was that it would end litigation, but Molloy noted that was unlikely given the opposition by some to the proposed settlement."

This is a thorny issue with no easy solutions. As I described in a previous post, fragile but workable coalitions of ranchers, conservationists and wildlife management agencies have, in isolated instances, found common ground for compromise, with all parties subscribing to a limited wolf management plan which safeguards ranchers' interests without unduly impacting wolf populations. These coalitions do not exist everywhere, however. On a regional basis, there remains much distrust, even animosity, among the various players. Hence the need for a consistent federal policy. That is what Judge Molloy defended in his decision.

I am not convinced that turning wolf management wholesale over to state agencies is appropriate. The governments of Idaho and Montana are notoriously pro-rancher and anti-wolf. To authorize the slaughter of 1300 wolves by avid sport hunters who have no knowledge of which specific animals may be preying on cattle or sheep, is asking for disaster. Why? Because under such a wholesale assault, the surviving wolves will pass on their genetic code to future generations, including coding which predisposes them to prey opportunistically on livestock. We've already seen this unintended result with coyotes, which have actually increased in numbers and range in spite of the best efforts of humans to eradicate them through poison, aerial hunting, and trapping.

A targeted, surgical hunt would avoid this, when coupled with ranchers taking easy and effective measures to discourage wolf predation. Those few successful coalitions adopt this very approach. In the interim, Judge Molloy's conservative approach is correct. Better to continue to protect these magnificent, and still endangered, predators, than to risk a second eradication from the landscape of the West. Wolves were an integral part of the food web long before European settlers claimed the land. Their hunting of older, crippled, or diseased animals from ungulate herds has the effect of keeping prey populations healthier over the long term.

A sidenote: yes, of course prey populations of elk and deer and bison have declined since the wolf reintroduction. This is because during the decades-long absence of wolves, those same populations had blossomed beyond the ability of the environment to sustain them. Their numbers needed to be thinned. Top predators are a necessary culling agent in any healthy ecosystem.

MISSING PRESIDENT. Economist Paul Krugman (see image below), with some justification, takes President Obama to task for essentially becoming a doormat to Republican interests in the debates over the federal budget. Mr. Obama is legitimately perceived as a conciliator -- it is one of his most valuable skills. Yet making preemptive concessions to conservative interests before they are even asked for, is verging into weakness.

As Krugman observes, "Despite the ferocious opposition he has faced since the day he took office, Mr. Obama is clearly still clinging to his vision of himself as a figure who can transcend America's partisan differences. And his political strategists seem to believe that he can win re-election by positioning himself as being conciliatory and reasonable, by always being willing to compromise. But if you ask me, I'd say that the nation wants -- and more important, what the nation needs -- a president who believes in something, and is willing to take a stand. And that's not what we're seeing."

It is a thankless task being president, and doubly so being the nation's first black president. Act too aggressively, and you're seen as militant and threatening. Act too meekly, and the opposition will walk all over you. I speak as one of his supporters when I say that finding the effective middle ground is, at least in the context of budget negotiations, something which Mr. Obama has yet to achieve. On balance, whether our leader is black or white, male or female, liberal or conservative, I'd prefer someone who takes a clear stand first, then negotiates from there.

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