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NWF View: Learning from Our Successes

Learning from Our Successes

  • Mark Van Putten
  • Oct 01, 1998
The National Wildlife Federation prides itself on practicing "commonsense conservation." NWF believes we can and must find solutions to environmental problems that benefit both wildlife and people. We also understand the power in using our successes to motivate people to take on new, even more difficult, challenges.

I was reminded of this recently when I joined Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in Minnesota to lend support to plans to consider changing the classification of wolves under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Among the protestors at the announcement were colleagues in conservation who share NWF´s desire to restore healthy wolf populations, but have a different perspective on the Secretary´s plan.

The protestors see only peril in the Secretary´s plan to remove recovering wolf populations in the Upper Midwest from federal oversight under the ESA. NWF sees accomplishment and opportunity.

Federal ESA protections have restored wolves in the Upper Great Lakes region from 600 to more than 2,500 animals. Now, it´s time to give the states and Native Americans a chance to prove they can keep the recovery going. That´s how the ESA is supposed to work. Returning management of wolves to qualified professionals in the states and tribes frees up federal attention for other imperiled species.

Other aspects of the Secretary´s proposals--such as reclassifying wolves in the Rocky Mountain region and in New England from endangered to threatened status under the ESA--would allow flexible approaches for restoring more wolves to their historic homes. Such flexibility made possible the immensely successful reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone and central Idaho by allowing authorities to craft management plans that addressed the concerns of local people.

Secretary Babbitt´s plan would enhance flexibility in the Northern Rockies, where recovery is well under way, and jump start wolf recovery in New England by providing a wider range of management options. This flexibility encourages local involvement to quell irrational fears and build support for wolves among those who will be their neighbors, thus ensuring that lofty plans truly deliver on-the-ground recovery.

But the protestors have a point. They--like all of us who worked long and hard to bring back the wolves--fear that the good intentions behind Secretary Babbitt´s plans will not be translated into continued restoration of wolves wherever feasible. Instead of allowing this fear to obscure the success story about the wolves´ return and the new opportunities it offers, we must turn it into vigilance to ensure the proposed changes deliver the promised benefits to wolves and people, too.

The new plans are subject to public review and comment, and clearly we must ask hard questions about the willingness and ability of state agencies to sustain recovered wolf populations. We must demand more than good written plans and insist that states invest in on-the-ground implementation. We must scrutinize state and tribal wolf-management plans for proof of sound scientific footing for all decisions. And we must--and we will--challenge the Department of the Interior over any determinations that wolf recovery is not possible in significant parts of the animal´s historic range. Our success in doing the seeming impossible in returning wolves to the Northern Rockies and Upper Great Lakes region inspires us to meet the seeming insurmountable challenges to restoring them elsewhere.

It´s simply common sense to celebrate and learn from our successes and to go forward to create more. We can continue the successful restoration of wolves to the American landscape and replicate it with other imperiled species, but only if we resist the temptation to reject Secretary Babbitt´s plans out of hand and, instead, choose to shape them.

Mark Van Putten
President & Chief Executive Officer
National Wildlife Federation

For more information, see the "Gray Wolf Reintroduction" section on NWF´s web site.

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