If you're a Minnesotan who, like me, has been lucky enough to hear wolves howling in the woods, you may already know it took strong federal protections to bring these magnificent animals back from the brink of extinction.
The need for wolf protections recently was reaffirmed by the second-highest court in the nation. That court decision is a stark rebuttal to one Minnesota senator's cynical attempts to strip our state's wolves of the very safeguards that allowed them to bounce back.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prematurely removed protections from gray wolves in the western Great Lakes states. That ruling protects wolves from hunting and acknowledges that more work must be done for the species to reach full recovery.
But the danger isn't over. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has developed a bad habit of targeting wolves in legislation, aiming to eliminate the shield that has allowed the wolf population to grow and expand in this small portion of its historic range. She can beat the habit by immediately rescinding her support of such dangerous bills.
Surprising as it may sound for a Democratic lawmaker, Klobuchar has teamed up with congressional Republicans on anti-wildlife legislation to remove wolf protections. Most recently, she introduced a measure that would eliminate federal protections for Great Lakes states' wolves and prevent review of that harmful outcome by courts.
Klobuchar's legislation would eliminate a fundamental right of all citizens to access the courts and hold their own government accountable when it breaks the law. The bill would let politicians, not scientists, decide whether to recover endangered species, further imperiling those animals.
As a lifelong Minnesotan who works to protect endangered wildlife, I am deeply disappointed by the senator's actions. Congress should not interfere with endangered-species protections that should be purely scientific decisions.
To safeguard imperiled wildlife, we have the nation's most effective environmental law, the Endangered Species Act. Under the act's protections, Great Lakes wolves have seen tremendous progress toward recovery, expanding from a small population in Northeastern Minnesota in 1974 to more than 3,500 wolves across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan today. Overall, the act has saved 99 percent of all species it protects and has put hundreds more on the road to recovery.
Despite this success, wolves still have a long way to go. They occupy less than 10 percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states and are absent from many places where they could live, including the Adirondacks, the southern Rocky Mountains, the Dakotas, and much of the West Coast.
But if the Fish and Wildlife Service had its way, wolves never would have been seen in those places again. In its decision, the D.C. appeals court concluded that the agency was using the Great Lakes wolf delisting as a back-door maneuver to remove protections from wolves everywhere. This balkanization, according to the court, undermined the act's very purpose of conserving species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.
Thankfully, the Fish and Wildlife Service was held accountable, and this illegal action was overturned in court. That decision is at least the eighth time a federal court has ruled that the service has wrongly ended protections for gray wolves. Access to the courts by wildlife-protection groups has been crucial in ensuring that the agency follows the Endangered Species Act's life-saving requirements.
If Klobuchar's legislation was to pass, however, removal of wolf protections could not be challenged in the courts, no matter how illegal and harmful to wolves. Her bill would undermine the rule of law along with the recovery of wolves in the rest of the country.
Americans deserve the chance to right the wrongs of their government, especially when their natural heritage hangs in the balance. Sen. Klobuchar should pull her support of this legislation before it sets a dangerous precedent and helps speed the loss of the nation's precious natural resources.
Collette Adkins is a Minneapolis-based senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity (biologicaldiversity.org). She represented the center in the recent lawsuit that reaffirmed Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the Great Lakes region.