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A Good Day for Wolverines

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Last week the Montana Federal District Court issued a stinging ruling that reverses the politically motivated decision by President Obama’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to keep wolverines off the Endangered Species List. As one of a number of plaintiffs, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies applauds the extensive 85-page ruling for finding that the agency ignored the best science in the face of undeniable climate change — and did so for political reasons.

The court’s order on the wolverine case bluntly asked the seminal question: “Why did the Service make the decision it did in the Proposed Rule, based on what it determined to be the best available science, and reject that decision eighteen months later?” The court answered its own question with the damning conclusion: “Based on the record, the Court suspects that a possible answer to this question can be found in the immense political pressure that was brought to bear on this issue, particularly by a handful of western states.”

The fact that two Democratic administrations (federal and state) interjected political pressure on their wildlife management agencies is deplorable. But worse, it’s totally hypocritical. When President George W. Bush’s administration overruled its scientists on critical habitat protection for bull trout, Democrats strongly criticized it. But in our wolverine lawsuit, the state of Montana, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks intervened to support the bad federal agency decision and Democrats didn’t criticize President Obama or Gov. Bullock.

It’s easy to understand why the oil and gas industry intervened since any attempts to slow down climate change could affect their profits. It’s also easy to understand why Republicans would oppose protecting wolverines since they favor corporations over people and wildlife and believe global warming is hogwash. But it makes little sense for Democrats Obama and Bullock to oppose giving wolverines Endangered Species Act protection. As the court rightly surmised, science was simply run over by political pressure.

Shortly after Obama took office, The Economist ran an article predicting the Democrats’ campaign plan for the Intermountain West was to move to the right on public lands issues. That prediction seems to have manifested as reality, as indicated by the following events:

Montana’s Sen. Jon Tester sponsored and passed a rider on an unrelated appropriations bill to take wolves off the endangered species list even though the courts had deemed that action illegal under the Endangered Species Act.

The Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear has not been uplisted to “endangered” from “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act even though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been saying for 20 years that this distinct grizzly bear population needs more protection.

For the threatened Canada lynx, FWS has steadfastly refused to protect critical habitat in the Southern Rockies and many areas of National Forests in the Northern Rockies.

Gov. Bullock nominated over 5 million acres of national forests in Montana be designated for fast-track logging, much of which is in habitat for the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear, wolverine, and lynx, all of which are already imperiled and harmed by logging.

Gov. Bullock, backed by some conservation groups such as Audubon, successfully lobbied the Obama administration to not list sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act because it would threaten corporate exploitation, primarily oil and gas development on public lands.

The sad truth is that Democrats are trying to beat the Republicans in a contest of who can be the most anti-environmental in the West. This is a losing game that Republicans will win because they don’t even pretend to care about habitat for native species.

But Bernie Sanders’ string of winning Western primaries demonstrates there is strong political support for not pandering to corporations and indicates that most voters who support Democrats are not supportive of an ever-increasing shift to the right-wing.

Instead of trying to beat the Republicans in a contest to see who can clearcut more habitat (while losing thousands of taxpayer dollars on every acre they cut) and driving more native species into extinction, President Obama and Gov. Bullock should follow the example of past leaders like Teddy Roosevelt and Lee Metcalf who stood up to corporate exploitation of our public lands and fought to preserve native species for future generations.

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Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

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