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House votes to remove protections for gray wolves
The House passed a bill Friday that would remove federal protections for the gray wolf, allowing ranchers, hunters and others to kill the animals.
The Manage Our Wolves Act passed 196-180, mainly with Republican support. It would direct the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to end Endangered Species Act protections for the species and prohibit lawsuits challenging the removal.
The GOP and many western states have long argued that four decades of federal protections have been too successful in bringing the wolf back from the brink of extinction, and the species now poses a significant threat to livestock, pets and humans.
The Obama administration had determined that the gray wolf no longer needs protections, and removed them. But a federal court in 2014 overturned that decision, saying that the FWS didn't show that the species was sufficiently recovered.
Under the GOP's bill, landowners, hunters and others would be allowed to kill gray wolves, unless the states decide to implement their own protections.
"This underscores the extent to which the Fish and Wildlife Service has been hamstrung in implementing the objectives of the Endangered Species Act," Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee's oversight panel, said on the House floor Friday before the vote.
"Rather than spend its limited resources protecting vulnerable species, litigation activists have forced the agency to continuously defend every action," he said. "In this case, despite scientific evidence collected by multiple administrations on both sides of the aisle showing that the gray wolf populations have recovered and thrived, the agency remains bogged down in costly, neverending litigation."
Many Republicans speaking in favor of the bill framed the gray wolf as a violent predator and told stories from their districts of the animals killing livestock or pets or wreaking havoc in other ways.
"If you live in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., it's not a problem. If you live in Madison, Wis., it's not really a problem," said Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), the bill's lead sponsor. "And you can make the argument that the pretty little puppy of the wolf, it's so pretty and beautiful, and we have to protect it."
Duffy said removing protections would be "good for the environment. It's good for the wolves, it's good for the cattle, it's actually really good for our deer population."
Democrats accused the GOP of overstating the problems with wolves. They said the species, which once roamed nearly the entire contiguous United States before humans decimated the population, is critical to maintaining health ecosystems.
"They still inhabit just a fraction of their historic range, and continued protection under the Endangered Species Act is necessary," said Rep. Don Beyer (Va.), the top Democrat on the Natural Resources oversight subpanel, and its likely chairman come January, since Democrats attained the House majority in last week's elections.
"It's important that we continue to protect the fewer than 6,000 that we have in the lower 48," he said.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said his district has a wolf breeding program, and it hasn't caused the problems the Republicans warned about.
"We are not having catastrophic predation on cattle in southern Oregon, and we could accommodate more wolves," he said.
"A lot of this is based on some sort of gut-level historic fear or hatred of predators that has been passed down from generation to generation. We can have a healthy wolf population and you can still do good husbandry for cattle."