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California Wolf-protection Decision Postponed 90 Days by Commission
VENTURA, Calif.— After hearing several hours of public testimony from an overflow crowd of more than 200 people and receiving more than 2,600 pages of comments, California Fish and Game commissioners voted on Wednesday to postpone until July their decision on extending state Endangered Species Act protections to gray wolves. In the surprise decision, the commission said the law allowed it the option of deferring the decision for up to 90 days, during which the public-comment period will be reopened and an additional public hearing held June 4 at Fortuna, in Northern California.
“This is a huge victory for gray wolves who are clearly trying to return to California where they lived for generations,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity. “It gives me great hope that rather than simply rubber-stamping the state’s recommendation not to protect wolves, the commissioners wisely decided to take a broader look at making sure wolves get a chance to recover here. I think the Commission realizes that’s what’s right, that’s what Californians want and that’s what the law says.”
The postponement came after a discussion that included consideration of the controversial recommendation by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife that, rather than protecting the wolf under the Act, the Department could consider designating it as a species of special concern and then, as needed, the Commission could enact rules and regulations that would prevent wolves from being killed in California. That option did not sit well with some conservation groups.
“The legislature didn’t grant the Commission the power to do a workaround of the law,” said Weiss. “If they determine that protection is warranted — and the facts on the ground and some of the Commission’s own concerns suggest that’s the case — the Commission must grant state protection. The state’s wildlife agency can’t just make up new rules that give limited protection to wolves. If wolves need protecting in California, and it’s clear from today’s testimony they do, the Commission’s job is to protect them, not side-step the issue.”
The Commission suggested that holding a hearing in Fortuna would allow more ranchers to attend and let their voices be heard on the issue, as well as giving the commissioners more time to consider the testimony presented at today’s hearing.
“It’s important to understand that regulatory actions like those discussed today are not a substitute for state protections for wolves,” said Weiss. “There’s no doubt the wolf meets the listing criteria. The commissioners don’t have the discretion to acknowledge that then to create a special fix just because this is a controversial species. They must follow the law.”
The listing decision comes in response to a 2012 petition from the Center and allies asking the Commission to protect gray wolves under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The Commission’s considerations come as the wolf known as OR-7 continues to make the state part of his range, a development many scientists believe is only the first chapter of wolves returning to California.
Wolves were once widely distributed throughout California but were eradicated from the state by a government-sponsored effort on behalf of livestock operators more than 80 years ago. In late 2011 a young male wolf from Oregon known as OR-7 crossed the border into California, becoming the first confirmed wild wolf in the state since the 1920s. OR-7 stayed in California for 15 months before returning to Oregon, but has crossed back into California several times, making the state part of his range for four years in a row.
Oregon’s growing wolf population has tripled in the past three years, and it is widely anticipated that more wolves from Oregon will make their way into California. OR-7’s journey to California involved his first dispersing westward across Oregon into the Cascade Mountains, then dropping south into California. Recently the tracks of another wolf were documented in the Oregon Cascades, the first since OR-7.
“Wolves are at a critical moment now,” said Weiss. “The federal government is proposing to strip federal legal protections from these animals across the country, including states like California where wolves are just starting to return. This makes state protections even more essential, and it’s all the more reason state officials must follow state law and protect wolves in California.”
Photo: Gray wolf, Canis lupus, northern Rockies, National Park Service
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 675,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
April 16, 2014