The night before the Fish and Wildlife Service had to shut down because of governmental intransigence, a crowd of about 200 gathered in the Sidney Yates Auditorium in Washington, D.C., to offer public comment on the service's proposal to delist the gray wolf throughout its range in the U.S.
The hearing's other subject was a proposal to define the Mexican wolf as a valid subspecies and list it as endangered, but that topic did not get much attention. Instead, the vast majority of speakers criticized the delisting proposal as scientifically unsound -- an example of "political science," not hard science, as at least two speakers put it. (The Mexican wolf proposal and gray wolf delisting proposal are included in the same Federal Register document, linked to above.)
In some cases, individuals paid their own way to Washington, D.C., and took a day off from work in order to offer two minutes of emotional testimony against the FWS plan.
Safari Club International may have been the only organization backing the FWS, a somewhat unusual position for the service to be in. But if FWS officials Gary Frazer and Mike Jimenez felt uncomfortable, they didn't show it, as the large number of speakers stretched the hearing well past its scheduled finish of 8:30 p.m.
It kicked off at 6 p.m. with a statement by FWS Director Dan Ashe, who said, "No animal engenders a more polarizing emotion among Americans than the wolf." Nevertheless, he said "regardless of our position ... the recovery of this iconic species stands as one of the greatest conservation success stories in history," as well as "a poster child for the power and protections the Endangered Species Act affords our most endangered species."
The crowd became restless as Ashe recounted standing with Wyoming's governor to announce that state would be a "responsible steward" of wolves following delisting.
"And you believed him, Mr. Ashe?" came a voice from the crowd.
"I do believe him," Ashe replied, and continued over persistent murmurs. He asked those in attendance to be involved not just in the wolf debate, but in trying to keep the service's doors open (a fate that could not be avoided).
"I’ve spent the better part of a day trying to figure out how to shut down an organization of 9,500 people," he said, adding that 7,000 employees of the Fish and Wildlife Service were facing the prospect of furlough.
He did get a hand at the end, if not an ovation, leaving Frazer, the assistant director for endangered species, and Jimenez, the point man for the proposal, at a table to listen to the comments.
More video and audio recordings will be posted today (Oct. 1).
Mexican wolf (June 13, 2013)