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Perhaps it’s President Donald Trump’s well-documented dislike of animals that has prompted his administration’s premature move to lift federal protected-species status from the gray wolf in the lower 48 states. But more likely, it’s the same reason this White House has long treated America’s majestic wildlife as if it’s an infestation: because it is determined to grant business interests whatever they might ask, no matter what the environmental costs. This move, like previous short-sighted attacks on protected wildlife by Trump, deserves challenge in court as well as review once President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

When Europeans arrived in North America, about 2 million gray wolves prowled from coast to coast. Aggressive eradication left that population at about 1,000 by around 1950. The gray wolf was put on the federal endangered species list in 1974. The population has rebounded — further proof that such protection works — but it isn’t yet out of the woods, so to speak. Only around 7,000 gray wolves are believed to be in the contiguous U.S. now, roaming just 10 percent of their original range.

Yet the administration has announced it is imminently “turning gray wolf population management back over to states and tribes.” In other words, state and tribal officials will again be allowed to sanction hunting and other methods of killing the wolves in their jurisdictions, as they did before the gray wolf was listed as an endangered species.

Ranchers have long fought to lift the wolf protections because of attacks on livestock. Hunters also are eager to have the wolves de-listed from protected status because they compete for game — which seems somewhat unsportsmanlike. The wolves’ advocates say the livestock losses are actually marginal and can be mitigated by adequate fencing and other nonlethal means, and that wolves’ role in keeping down grazing by elk and deer aids in new growth of trees and vegetation, which is an overall environmental benefit.

What does Trump’s White House have against wildlife? Last year, the administration weakened the Endangered Species Act to reduce the amount of set-aside habitat — the goal being to allow unfettered drilling and mining on previously protected land. It also moved to reinterpret the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to eliminate liability for industry that fails to take basic steps to ensure its activities don’t kill birds. The administration has even changed the rules in Alaska’s natural preserves to allow hunters to bait hibernating bears and cubs from their dens to kill them, and to shoot swimming caribou from boats and planes. Again: sportsmanship?

America’s astounding natural treasures, including the furred and feathered ones, are an irreplaceable part of the national heritage. They must not be sacrificed to the whims of business interests that care about nothing but profit — and a president who has opened the store to them.

— St. Louis (Mo.) Post-Dispatch

— St. Louis (Mo.) Post-Dispatch


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