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Herger pushes to keep the gray wolf out of California

December 9, 2010
In The News

By Ryan Sabalow, Redding Record Searchlight

There may not be American gray wolves in California yet, but U.S. Rep. Wally Herger has joined a group of Republican lawmakers urging the animals' removal from the Endangered Species Act — just in case.

The Chico Republican says he co-sponsored a bill last week with seven other House Republicans pushing for the removal of the wolves' protected status because he's worried that environmental groups may someday try to introduce them in his district as they have in other states.

At least one environmentalist group says wolves should be brought back to the north state, though there are no immediate plans to do so.

"I think restoring wolves to a larger portion (of their original habitat) is a necessity before removing protection for them," said Noah Greenwald, the director of the Center for Biological Diversity's endangered species program in Portland, Ore.

The center's biologists believe that wolves could survive in some north state forests, including parts of Trinity, Siskiyou and Modoc counties.

Gray wolves were hunted to extinction in California around the turn of the last century.

The last wolf trapped in California was in Lassen County in 1924, according to the California Wolf Center.

The nearest wolf pack to the north state is a small group of around a dozen wolves in Eastern Oregon.

Across the country, wolves live in less than 5 percent of their former natural habitat, Greenwald said.

Dana Michaels, a California Department of Fish and Game spokeswoman, state biologists are actively planning what would happen should wolves make their way down from Oregon.

But she said reintroduction of wolves to California "ain't gonna happen, at least not intentionally."

"They were here once, but so were the grizzlies," Michaels said. "I don't know how many people would be too thrilled about grizzlies coming back."

Herger says that if the wolves remain under federal protection, their reintroduction to his state could be disastrous.

"This all-out effort to oppose the de-listing of the gray wolf represents a perfect example of how the ESA (Endangered Species Act) is used not to recover species so much as it is used as a tool for groups to drive an agenda of locking-up federal lands and restricting the use and development of private property," Herger wrote in an online newsletter to his constituents.

Herger said that his constituents know all too well what a federally protected endangered species can do to an area's livelihood.

He cited "the decimation of our once vibrant timber industry caused by the infamous listing of the spotted owl," and the death of three people in 1997 when the Arboga Levee in Yuba County broke following yearslong delays in improvements due to habitat concerns over the protected Valley Longhorn Elderberry Beetle.

Last week Herger co-authored the State Sovereignty Wildlife Management Act with House members from Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Montana and Arizona.

The bill would allow individual states to develop their own wolf management plans, rather than allow the federal government to mandate how the states deal with packs inside state boundaries.

Gray wolves have become a major point of political contention in some states.

Packs were reintroduced in the mid-1990s to Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, including in Yellowstone National Park. A pack of Mexican gray wolves also was introduced in New Mexico and Arizona.

In recent years, the growing wolf populations in some of the areas have resulted in complaints from ranchers, big game hunters and their political allies that the packs are killing livestock and thinning herds of elk, deer and other popular big game animals targeted by hunters.

Herger said that recovery targets for wolf populations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were easily met by 2002, allowing their removal from the endangered species list and ending what he calls "costly property use restrictions that accompany any species listing."

"However, eight years of litigation from national environmental organizations have prevented the delisting and kept the gray wolf under federal control even as their population continued to rise," Herger said. "As a result, wolf populations have reached nearly seven times the recovery target and are causing major damage to domestic livestock and wildlife."

In August a U.S. district judge in Montana reinstated Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Montana, Idaho and portions of Washington, Oregon and Utah, Greenwald said.

The petition to again classify the wolves as endangered was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and its allies. The groups challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to lift federal protections from wolves and authorize wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho but keep them in place in Wyoming, Greenwald said.

In continuing the wolves' protected species status, the judge ruled such decisions need to be based on wolf biology, not state boundaries, Greenwald said.

Earlier in the summer, a similar petition forced federal wildlife officials to call off plans to shoot two of Eastern Oregon's 14 wolves after ranchers complained the pack was eating cattle.

Greenwald said that biologists, not Congress, should decide what's best for the wolves.

"It would be a shame to have Congress interfere in what's essentially a scientific decision," Greenwald said.