January 4, 2010

Former Fish and Wildlife Director comments on wolf delisting

By Former Fish and Wildlife Director comments on wolf delisting

Author:  Damien M. Schiff

Jamie Rappaport Clark, the Service's director from 1997 to 2001, had this oped in last Friday's Washington Post, excoriating the Obama Administration and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar for going ahead, in March of 2009, with a Bush Administration proposal to delist the Northern Rockies "distinct population segment" (DPS) of the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Ms. Clark's principal criticism is that the delisting reflects an understanding of the wolf's range that is based more on political boundaries than on the wolf's biological needs.

It's peculiar that Ms. Clark would criticize that interpretation of the Service's power to protect DPSs under the ESA.  Since at least 1996, the Service has interpreted its DPS power to protect DPSs as requiring an analysis of whether a given animal population is "discreet," i.e., separated to some degree from other kindred populations.  Pursuant to this discreetness analysis, the Service has looked, at least in part, to whether a population is separated from other populations by state or national boundaries.  Surely Ms. Clark is aware of this.  As an enviromentalist, Ms. Clark (who is now executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife) also is aware of what the Service's DPS policy requires.  She knows or should know that allowing the Service to take into account political boundaries can as often help the environmentalist cause as hurt it: it doesn't take much imagination to conceive of instances (e.g., the marbled murrelet) where a population may arguably be doing poorly in the United Stataes but where other populations of the same species are doing quite well across the border in Canada or Mexico, thus enabling the U.S. population's listing.

That the Service takes political boundaries into account when deciding whether to list or delist DPSs, and that this policy can equally help and hurt species conservation, seems to establish that Ms. Clark's opposition to the wolf delisting is based on positions other than those articulated in her recent oped.

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