By Rob Davis
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, is urging federal wildlife officials to keep gray wolves on the endangered species list, pointing to new independent research raising questions about the plan.
A recent peer review commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service questioned the scientific basis of the federal agency's proposal to remove wolves from the endangered species list. The independent study by UC Santa Barbara researchers said the federal decision was overly dependent on a lone research paper that wasn't widely accepted by scientists.
DeFazio, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and 72 other Congressional representatives told Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that the push to remove the gray wolf should be abandoned and only reconsidered after the federal government does more research about the country's wolf populations.
They told Jewell in a letter that:
Because it is not based on the best available science, the proposed rule undermines decades of conservation work done to protect the gray wolf, and sets a bad precedent for future [Endangered Species Act\ delistings. Further, it would stifle gray wolf recovery at a time when conservation gains are only nascent in the Pacific Northwest.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the gray wolf as endangered after it was almost hunted to extinction in the lower 48 states. The service says population numbers have since bounced back to sustainable levels, with an estimated 5,360 now in the contiguous states. Most live in the northern Rocky Mountains and western Great Lakes.
The majority of Oregon's 64 wolves are found in eastern Oregon and were already removed from the federal endangered species list in 2011. Federal protection remains for wolves that migrate to the western part of the state, like OR-7, the wolf that gained fame after being the first in nearly 90 years to cross into California.
Oregon's population has been growing steadily. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported recently that a wolf had visited the eastern slopes of Mount Hood in 2013, the first known visit by the species to the iconic mountain since the recovery began.