The possibility that political expediency might trump science should come as no surprise to the 14 environmental groups that sued to stop a decision by the Department of the Interior to put management of recovered wolf populations into the hands of state wildlife agencies in Idaho and Montana.
Only as heated calls arose from Western senators and congressmen to remove wolves from the protection of the Endangered Species Act did it dawn on the groups that the lawsuit might have opened a Pandora's box that could threaten the act itself. Now the groups are beating a hasty retreat by offering to settle the lawsuit if wolf management is returned to state wildlife agencies with plans approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—the situation that existed before the lawsuit.
Idaho and Montana had USFWS-approved plans. Wyoming, with its "shoot 'em if you see 'em" plan, was the sole holdout. The plans were not perfect—the great enemy of the possible—but they were workable and laid a foundation to foster wolf populations while the two-legged species got used to them.
As the ESA stands today, decisions about listing species as endangered are made by federal agencies that consult with USFWS experts. Congressional intervention driven by politics instead of sound science could destroy the conjunction of law and science that brought the bald eagle, the very symbol of America, back from the brink of extinction.
If supporters of political intervention succeed, decisions about protecting endangered species will depend on how sweetly fuzzy or doe-eyed they may be.
Slimy, slithering, snapping, snarling or unsightly creatures won't stand a chance.