Denver Post on Making Land Management Decisions in the Courtroom : Rocky Mountain Park Elk

National Park Service photo

Various folks, from former Chief of the Forest Service and elk biologist Jack Ward Thomas, have questioned the idea of making land management decisions in the courtroom. This is apparently also apparent to members of the Denver Post editorial board. In Colorado, we have commissions, task forces and a variety of other mechanisms of interested and knowledgeable parties getting together to solve tough issues (e.g. oil and gas regulation). So perhaps it seems more obvious here that an appeals court is suboptimal. Given our discussion of “nit-picking” this week, I also italicized a relevant sentence. Another note: it’s obviously not just the Forest Service who deals with this.

Here’s the link, and below is an excerpt.

Yet not everyone is happy. Some environmentalists objected to the plan from the outset because it rejected the option of introducing wolves to reduce the number of elk. And just this week, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard an appeal from WildEarth Guardians of a lower-court decision that upheld the Park Service’s plan.

We hope the appeals court supports the lower-court decision. It would be a shame — indeed a travesty — if the professional judgment of the Park Service on behalf of the health of the park was second-guessed in this fashion.

It’s not that we have anything against wolves. The reintroduction of gray wolves in the mid-1990s from Canada to Montana, Idaho and Wyoming must be judged a conservation triumph. They reproduced and thrived — so much so that the Fish and Wildlife Service concluded they could even be removed from the endangered species list.

Moreover, in Yellowstone the wolves scattered elk herds just as predicted, thereby allowing the recovery of willow and other battered species.

But reintroducing wolves is not something to be undertaken lightly or in haste. While Rocky Mountain National Park, at 415 square miles, is huge, wolf packs can range even farther. Wolves would inevitably encroach onto private property and even into lightly populated areas.

As we noted back in 2006, any plan to import wolves into the park would therefore provoke a lengthy political and legal battle — even if wolves might turn out to be part of the long-term solution for elk control.

The Park Service didn’t have the luxury of years to wait for a solution to its elk problem — not if it wanted to be a responsible steward of Rocky Mountain park.

Like so many environmental court cases, this one is based upon claims that federal officials failed to dot every “i” and cross every “t” of the law in reaching their decision.

For example, WildEarth Guardians maintains that culling the herd with trained volunteers is tantamount to hunting, which is banned in the park. But this is legal word play. No one considers killing elk for ecological reasons to be a form of sport — and hunters do not benefit from it.

The future of the wolf in Colorado is a fascinating topic worthy of serious debate. But it shouldn’t be decided by an appeals court.

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