Sunday, June 20, 2010

Random Law Review # 12

Valerie Bittner's Wolves in the Crosshairs: A Scientific Case Against the Final Rule of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Removing Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolves From the Endangered Species List in 15 Hastings West-Northwest Journal of Environmental Law and Policy 281 (2009).

Okay, this one takes the prize for longest article title combined with longest journal title. That citation is longer than many paragraphs I write. Anyway, the issue discussed turns out to be an interesting one: after several decades on the endangered species list, the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf was recently certified for de-listing by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The article argues that the Service erred by using a simplistic baseline for determining that the gray wolf had recovered and was no longer in danger of extinction. According to the article, the Service chose, in a rather arbitrary fashion, a fixed number of wolves that would constitute "recovery" and potentially open the wolves up to hunting. In fact, Bittner argues, the determination of when a species is truly self-sustaining is a much more complex one, and requires consideration of factors such as how quickly they breed, how much of their territory is being encroached upon, what other species prey on them, etc.

Of particular interest to me was the discussion of the need for genetic drift. Six hundred wolves in a rather limited geographical setting will share a great deal of genetic intermixing through breeding. In contrast, four groups of 150 wolves, although equal in total number, may succumb to numerical depression through genetic inbreeding if the four groups do not share contiguous geography allowing their members to breed with members of the other groups. According to Bittner, the Service has not taken into account the difficulty wolves in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming have in travelling outside of their "home" hunting ground to breed with wolves in other packs (I assume here, perhaps erroneously, that their natural corridors of travel are often blocked by man-made obstacles, such as fences, highways, cities, etc.).

A good experience this time around on the Random Law Review: I learned a little bit about something I knew hardly anything about, and gained even more respect for the difficulties environmental lawyers have in dealing with government agencies.

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