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Op-Ed: Delisting Wolves From the ESA Ignores Science and Data

Op-Ed: Delisting Wolves From the ESA Ignores Science and DataEXPAND
Jacob Frank/Colorado National Park Service

As the howling over the election results continues, you may have missed the Trump administration’s most recent denial of science: the removal of Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves.

Why does the Trump administration continue to deny science? From the climate crisis to COVID-19 — and now to wildlife biologists about the importance of carnivores to the ecosystem. Biodiversity, or the variety of different living organisms in the world, has been declining rapidly. Experts estimate that over a million species are currently at risk of extinction, and yet we march along, rolling back critical climate policies and protections for endangered animals like the wolf.

We need to rely on science and data when making these decisions, and the evidence is clear that wolves are pivotal in the health of the ecosystem and the ranching industry will not collapse as we support this apex predator.

Protecting wildlife and biodiversity is utterly important. Each different species has a role to play. All of those roles culminate and are vital to human health. Wolves are still functionally extinct in most of the places where they used to live, like the majority of Colorado. Their contribution to biodiversity is still missing. Without wolves, elk and deer populations grow beyond the carrying capacity of the land, they overgraze, and new trees can’t grow. But with wolves, trees grow in great abundance, grasses grow taller, and other animals — like beavers, frogs and birds — flourish, increasing the biodiversity and resiliency of the entire ecosystem.

In the delisting announcement put out by the U.S. Department of the Interior, this decision is quoted as being a win for ranchers. I don’t see how that could be the case, when the vast majority of livestock deaths, according to the Department of Agriculture, are from health problems, weather and theft. The USDA data shows that nine times more cattle and sheep die from causes such as illnesses, birthing problems, weather, poisoning and theft (4,003,847) than from all carnivores combined (461,159). Of the 119 million cattle and sheep inventoried in 2014 and 2015, only 0.4 percent died as a result of predation. I do respect that even a few losses can greatly impact smaller-scale livestock producers; luckily, there are livestock compensation programs that pay ranchers when a loss happens.

In order for wolves to persist for future generations, we must learn to co-exist with them. Although less than 1 percent of livestock is taken by any wild carnivore, livestock growers can still take precautions and use a host of non-lethal solutions to protect their herds. Humans pose a far greater threat to wolves than wolves pose to us. No human has ever been killed by a wild wolf in the lower 48 states.

Historically, gray wolves were present throughout most of the continental U.S. but they were trapped, shot and poisoned to the brink of extinction because they were viewed as a threat by white settlers in the 1800s and early 1900s. It feels like we’re still fighting this misguided notion of wolves being a “threat” hundreds of years later.

Environmentalism and respect for the natural world matter to Latinos and Indigenous people. Upon hearing about the delisting of the gray wolf, Rain Bear Stands Last, executive director of the Global Indigenous Council, said, “Now, with delisting, the greatest threat to the survival of the gray wolf is Bernhardt and Skipwith, two Trump corporate shills in the tradition of Scott Pruitt. ... This is a moment to remember the ancient Indigenous wisdom that speaks to how the fates of the wolf and humankind are inextricably linked.”

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But the Trump administration is delisting the gray wolf before all their benefits to biodiversity and humans have been fully realized. The Trump administration is depriving our communities of health and resiliency. Luckily, the American people spoke, and have chosen Joe Biden as our next president. President-elect Biden will have his work cut out for him as he enters office. Of the many Trump rules that must be undone, I ask President-elect Biden to make sure that this unscientific wolf delisting is one of them.

As Rain Bear Stands Last said, our destiny will be the same as that of wolves. For our sake and theirs, we must protect and fully recover them.

Ean Thomas Tafoya is the Colorado field advocate for GreenLatinos. He lives in Denver.

Westword frequently publishes op-eds and essays about matters of interest to Denver readers. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to editorial@westword.com, where you can also respond to this piece.

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