February 22, 2018

ESA and Hybridization: Dealing With It Case By Case

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hybridwolfThe issue of wolves, the Endangered Species Act and “intercrosses”, i.e. cross breeding or hybridization, seems to have moved to the forefront in discussions about wolves. Before even getting to any discussion about what constitutes a hybridized wolf and how this is dealt with in the administering of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), consider some of the fallout and collateral damage protecting “intercrosses” can result in.

First, and probably foremost is the issue of actually protecting the purity of a species. As much as some have little or no use for the wolf, in parts of the world I believe a “pure” wolf and certain “pure” subspecies of wolves can be found (although I, personally, place little value in the notion of subspecies as it pertains to wild dogs). Is it therefore of importance to protect that species? Surely, although I recognize some might disagree. And also, to what degree and worthy effort is this protection to be carried out before it blows back in our faces as promoting further destruction of a species?

The question then becomes how do we protect a “pure” wolf species? Short of creating as much isolation from all other canines, wild and domestic, I’m not so inclined to think it honestly can be completely protected, at least not in some geographical locals, and that’s part of the problem that exists today. Attempting to force wild, and “pure,” wolves into heavily populated regions aren’t we begging for hybridization between wolves and feral and domestic dogs?

Secondly, we have learned that canines carry and transmit as many as 50 or more different kinds of diseases. In understanding the habits of wolves, we know that wolves travel great distances, sometimes extraordinary distances. With wolf populations being allowed to flourish, does this not force more wolves to disperse? Is not this flourishing also creating a situation in which wolves will find need to eat livestock, pets and basically hang out in people’s back yards? Isn’t this dispersal creating a better chance of perpetuating no fewer than two conditions: spreading of diseases into greater geographical regions and increasing the chances of “intercrosses?

Third, what then is becoming of the very institution of wildlife science and scholarship where it is known that protected species are interbreeding with other non protected species, and willingly this institution watches as the very species they claim to want to protect is being destroyed?

Fourth, of what value then, can be placed on the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (with amendments)? It’s no secret what the purposes and plans of the ESA are:

(b) PURPOSES.—The purposes of this Act are to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species, and to take such steps as may be appropriate to achieve the purposes of the treaties and conventions set forth in subsection (a) of this section.

Is there mention here of protecting hybridized species? As a matter of fact there is no discussion or regulations in the ESA having anything to do with “intercrosses” of wolves. So, how do we stop this, or do we?

In email conversations over the past several days, I read comments from others far more expertise in these affairs than I am, repeating that the ESA does not protect mongrel species. I wanted to know where in the ESA it says that or by which Section of the Act one can interpret that is what it means?

Thanks to the help of Ted B. Lyon of Ted B. Lyon & Associates, P.C., and co-author of the brand new book, The Real Wolf: The Science, Politics, and Economics of Co-Existing with Wolves in Modern Times, I got some help. With the help of a law student at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, I was directed to some cases in law where it gives us perhaps a bit better understanding of how the courts, in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, define and interpret “pure” species compared with “intercrosses” and how it is being dealt with.

As was given to me, here is a statement found in The Endangered Species Act: Static Law Meets Dynamic World by Holly Doremus

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) and National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS,” also known as NOAA Fisheries) (together “the Services”), do not currently have a formal policy on hybrids. The Interior Solicitor’s office waffled in the early days of the ESA, first concluding that any progeny of a protected entity was itself protected, then quickly reversing course to say that the progeny of interbreeding between species or even between subspecies were flatly ineligible for federal protection [70]. That stance was withdrawn as too “rigid” in 1990 [71]. A new policy was proposed in 1996 [72], but it was never finalized. FWS now evaluates the legal consequences of hybridization on a case-by-case basis [73].”

The short of all of this appears to be that the Endangered Species Act was not drafted with the intent to protect hybridized (intercrossed) species, BUT the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “evaluates the legal consequences of hybridization on a case-by-case basis” because they granted themselves that authority to do so. And, we are squarely back to ground zero; the courts show deference to the Secretary and Congress gives the Secretary authoritative flexibility.

What does that then mean? That’s a good question. To me it means that if the USFWS has an agenda, aside from it’s written mission (Gasp!), and for political reasons, it can, on a case-by-case basis do whatever they want while running the risk of lawsuits from friends, what then is the rule of law worth? Realistically, the only lawsuits USFWS usually face come from animal rights and environmental groups. All too often, all of these groups work in unison with the same political (and financial) agendas.

In The Real Wolf book, an entire chapter covers the hybridization of captive wolves before and after Mexican wolves were introduced into the Southwest. This must be one of those case-by-case examples the USFWS says they will make determinations about. The information and facts presented are a clear and well-defined example of the United States Government spending millions of taxpayer dollars to protect a Heinz-57 mutt in the desert Southwest.

From my vantage point I see at least two seriously flawed examples here of what is wrong with the Endangered Species Act. One, that the Secretary has the authority, and that authority flexes its muscle knowing the Courts grant deference (and environmentalists, et. al., can cherry-pick the courts they want for the judges they will get). Secondly, the Secretary can bastardize the actual purpose of the ESA by playing games with intercrosses on a “case-by-case basis,” i.e. politics and agendas.

But the flaws date back to the very beginning of the ESA. With little or no definitions, establishment of actual authority and provisions to easily craft changes to the act based on the rapidly changing environments we live in, we can only expect the ESA to fail in protecting species and become a political tool of benefit for those who can see financial gains and abuse to promote causes. Can you say OUTDATED? I know you can.

Wolves were and never have been threatened “throughout a significant portion of its range.” Wolves and human populations cannot coexist. This has been proven over and over again. In addition to the threats these animals cause to humans, intercrosses are inevitable and are a threat to the protection of the pure wolf species. Why is that not being considered here? Or is it really NOT about the wolf?

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