DENVER — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a halt this week to its proposal to remove official government protections for gray wolves, the largest member of the canine family. Hunters and farmers had sought to take the wolves off the Endangered Species List, which, they say, was “unjustifiably shielding this monstrous death-machine from the fate it deserves.”
Following protests by groups including Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and the American Society of Mammologists, federal officials said “a recent unexpected delay” has indefinitely held up the delisting. They offered no further explanation, and the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has a filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to get meeting records from the Fish and Wildlife Service on the matter.
“This is wildlife at its most fragile and precious,” said Yellowstone Park Ranger Kevin Gilroy as he bandaged cuts on his forearm and put a patch over his badly damaged left eye. “If we don’t protect the gray wolf, who will?”
Gilroy broke off when a mournful howling sounded in the distance. He froze and then, shuddering, took a watch position on what looked like a well-worn patch of floor near a window.
Canis lupus, , which has made a comeback in the Rockies and Great Lakes regions, is a 75- to 175-pound carnivore with top speeds of more than 35 miles per hour. Its 42 teeth are designed to crush bone, and the wolf’s jaw can exert 1,500 pounds of pressure per square inch, twice that of a German shepherd. An apex predator, the American wolf has no hunters in the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the gray wolf population as one of “least concern” in terms of numbers.
“Wolves, huh?” asked Britnay MacAfee-Herbowitz, who runs a homeless shelter in Oklahoma City. “I mean, sure, the sequester is literally taking food out of people’s mouths and the jobless recovery is squeezing our future like a clementine in a vice, but wolves, sure.”
MacAfee-Herbowitz added, her eyes a thousand-yard stare: “Wolves.”
Anyone convicted of killing a deadly, deadly wolf can face up to a year in prison, as well as a $50,000 fine, plus up to $25,000 in civil penalties for each violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Wolves are mythic killers whose very name has become a metaphor for anything wild, vicious or predatory.