USFWS And Environmental Groups Cut Deal To Kill Congressional Legislation.
Editorial News/Press Release
March 27, 2011
The Muddier Pro-Wolf Efforts Make The Water The Clearer Their Intentions Become
Anyone who has followed the gray wolf issue in the Northern Rockies for the past decade or so has seen it make a lot of twists and turns along the way. From the very start, even before the first imported Canadian wolves were released into the Greater Yellowstone Area back in 1995, the introduction of those wolves into an ecosystem that had been "wolf free" for 60 to 70 years came under fire from hunter-based sportsmen groups and many respected wildlife professionals. The very claim that wolves had been extirpated from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming by the 1930s was even challenged, and still is today.
The Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project has been plagued with ongoing accusations of relying on manipulated science to dump a non-indigenous wolf into the region, outright lies to camouflage the devastation wolves would deal other wildlife populations, as well as fraudulent claims and predictions purposely made by the "wolf experts" who put the recovery plan together. Among many other reasons for the finger pointing has been the suspected unauthorized misuse of tens of millions excise tax dollars to fund that wolf transplant - tax money that had been collected on firearms, ammunition, fishing tackle and archery equipment, that was to be used exclusively for wildlife habitat and fisheries improvement.
With so many such accusations, an ever growing number of residents in the Northern Rockies are more than a bit perplexed over how the one federal judge who has repeatedly ruled on wolf management issues has turned a blind eye to how unscrupulously this project has been forced upon this country. Instead of questioning the extremely dirty issues which severely tarnish the validity of bringing in non-native and definitely non-endangered wolves from Canada, U.S. District Court judge Donald Molloy, of Missoula, seems to look for the tiniest loophole to jump through in order to decide or rule in favor of the environmental group coalition that keeps wolf management tied up in "his" court. And they've gotten good at that. In fact, so good, that even though wolves reached the outlined recovery goal back in 2002, there has been only one wolf management hunt, in 2009, and in just Idaho and Montana. Today, there are 500% more wolves roaming the Northern Rockies than established as a "recovered population" in the original plan.
The most recent wolf hearing in this Court took place this past week, on March 24. The purpose of that hearing was supposedly for Judge Molloy to listen to the verbal arguments of attorneys representing more than a dozen environmental groups, including the Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, who were seeking changes to the "experimental" and "non-
essential" classification of the Canadian wolves released in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. However, the dozens of protesters out on the sidewalk adjacent to the court building felt that the hearing had been scheduled for an entirely different reason, to facilitate a scheme that had been in the planning stage for months by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the environmental organizations which had filed the lawsuit to have the classification definitions changed, or eliminated altogether.
Those feelings were due to a chain of related events the previous week, that for many western residents has looked more and more like an orchestrated plan by a number of parties, with one ultimate goal - and that is to kill two pieces of wolf legislation back in Washington D.C. And that would be Senate Bill 249 (Hatch-UT) and House Resolution 509 (Rehberg-MT). Both share a common purpose, and that is to remove the wolf from the Endangered Species List, turning over wolf management to the state wildlife agencies in each and every state.
That "coincidental" chain of events began on Thursday, March 17, when the environmental legal firm known as Earthjustice announced they were dropping out of the litigation, and would no longer be representing the 13 groups which have been the "Plaintiffs" who have brought the wolf issue to Molloy's court on a number of occasions. Then, the very next day, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a joint press release, announcing that an agreement had been struck with "some of" the plaintiffs that have repeatedly fought wolf management. However, four organizations had split away from that coalition, and vowed that they would maintain their opposition to any wolf management hunts. Those groups were the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Western Watersheds Project, Friends of the Clearwater, and the Humane Society of the United States.
Part of that "settlement" is that the agreeing parties will not take wolf management hunts back to court for five years. It also means that Montana and Idaho would get much needed management hunts...but not in Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, where wolves are now making an extremely negative impact on big game populations and on livestock production. Nor in Oregon, Washington, Utah or Colorado, where wolves have begun to habituate, nor in any other state which may decide that wolves are not wanted or needed.
With four of the original environmental groups proclaiming they will keep this issue tied up in court, and the others poised to jump right back in after five years, what does this "agreement", this "settlement" gain? Sportsmen, ranchers and rural land owners hardly see it as anything more than a very thinly veiled compromise, and anything but a victory. How this chain of events unfolded has thrown up a red flag. Was it all just coincidental - or was it a very well planned sequence to cleverly disguise an entirely different agenda?
Going back to S. 249 and H.R. 509. If either of these two legislations were passed and put into effect, both the USFWS and groups like Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Council lose...and lose big time. Should wolves be pulled from beneath the umbrella of protection by the Endangered Species Act, the Department of the Interior/USFWS would lose a leveraging tool which they have used to close off public lands, and to literally take away privately owned lands or access to private property. And if you think our government is above such action, you're likely living in the dark. For the environmental organizations, the loss of ESA protection for wolves is akin to slaughtering their prized "cash cow".
It has become very clear that this miraculous meeting of minds between a very soiled federal government agency and money mongering environmental organizations is far less than up front and honest. Both sides are now attempting to save a very broken policy that has given the Department of the Interior unprecedented power, and a loophole known as the Equal Access to Justice Act that has allowed these environmental "not for profit" organizations to bilk our justice system of billions of dollars over the past decade. How much money are we talking about? During one six-year period, environmental groups in this country filed more than 1,500 lawsuits, mostly against the U.S. Government - and were awarded some $4.7-BILLION in very padded reimbursement of legal expenditures.
Robert Fanning, of Pray, MT is the founder of Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd. In regard to how the environmental coalition may appear to be breaking down to some, he claims, "Bureaucrats and extremist lawyers are not going to 'go away quietly' with billions at stake, and they are not going to 'play nice'...or tell the truth. While our side is 'High Fiving' each other...their side is planning to cut you off at the knees."
One question has arisen since "The Deal" was made, likewise since four of the plaintiffs have dropped out of the case, and that is, "Can the remaining plaintiffs still legally make that agreement with the defendant, which in this case is the U.S. Department of the Interior?"
Not according to Fanning who says, "Citing the comments of John Bloomquist, Esq., Jim Brown, Esq., and Ryan Benson, Esq., who I had spoken to at length earlier in the week, we all agreed to declare to the (MT) Senate Committee hearing the bill (SB 414 - The Montana Wolf Control Act), through me, that the phony 'Deal' being pushed through Molloy's court is a trick designed to derail the state and federal political process and that the tricksters can't enter into a binding covenant not to sue because four plaintiffs dropped out."
(This hearing also took place on March 24, at the State Capitol building in Helena.)
The "reason" for the March 24 hearing in Missoula's U.S. District Court is now very suspect. Those hunters, ranchers and rural land owners who were there to protest against continued intervention by environmental groups that want wolf populations to keep on growing and becoming more widely spread, now fully realize that the agreement between those organizations and the Department of the Interior is nothing more than a ploy to kill support for the wolf legislation now being heavily pushed in Congress.
American citizens are now growing weary of the wolf issue, and the manner in which stalled management plans have resulted in escalated wolf depredation of wildlife and livestock. Many fear that growing wolf numbers are now posing a physical threat to the residents of the six states with the highest wolf populations, and there is now more concern than ever about health dangers. Wolves carry and widely spread more than 30 known diseases and parasites, many of which are infectious to humans. The strong support for S. 249 and H.R. 509, which would pull federal protection and management of wolves, has both USFWS and environmental groups running just a bit scared. And it now seems these two sides have more than an "agreement" between them. They also now share the fear of losing their "Holy Grail" of power and funding - the Endangered Species Act.
The manner in which the Department of the Interior and USFWS entered into secret meetings with the environmental groups, to reach a backroom deal has angered many sportsmen and sportsmen organizations. Some of that nasty taste in their mouths comes from how true hunter-based wildlife conservation groups were excluded from this deal making session. But even more tainted is the deal itself. The federal government would maintain control of wolf management, and states (Montana and Idaho only) would be given five years of managing wolf populations, under strict guidance from USFWS. And at the end of that five-year period, the intervening environmental groups that "settled" with the Department of the Interior/USFWS could jump right back in and once again begin to milk their favored cash cow for hundreds of millions. And the cycle of graft would begin all over.
If passed by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, S. 249 and H.R. 509, also known as The American Big Game and Livestock Protection Act, would allow all states to manage wolves, just as all state wildlife agencies manage other wild game. And they have done an excellent job of that.
Ryan Benson, National Director of Big Game Forever, has this to say about this Act, "Under its provisions wolf populations are removed from federal statutes and returned to state wildlife protections. H.R. 509 and S. 249 will allow states to manage wolf populations along with other wildlife in balance and with much needed flexibility. Wolf populations are highly resilient and will do fine under state wildlife management. If numbers fall too low, Congress can once again relist the species. States and sportsmen will not let that happen. No one wants to go through this mess again."
No where in the press release on the deal struck between federal wildlife officials and environmental lawyers does it mention a dollar figure paid to those groups, but it does use the term "settlement". The sportsmen and citizens who have watched these groups repeatedly file for reimbursement under the Equal Access to Justice Act know they did not settle this issue for nothing. They have never done anything for nothing.
Before this "agreement" can be finalized, it must have Donald Molloy's approval. The speculation is that he has been a part of this deal making from the very start. If not, and he just learned of the "agreement" on March 18, like the rest of the country, he could be feeling left out of the loop...and more than a little bit used.
As more and more details of "The Deal" become available, especially the money part, the legislation back in Washington D.C. could see more support than ever. Short term fixes like the USFWS-Enviro "agreement" solve nothing, and ultimately carry an extremely high price tag. -
Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH