Apparently feeling their oats after the Republicans captured control of the U.S. House in November’s elections, several GOP representatives from western states are already galloping out of the gates to attempt to roll back species protections in the West. They’ve initially set their sights on gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains, which were returned to the Endangered Species Act’s protected list by a court decision in August.
A leader of the anti-wolf posse is Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, who introduced bills last week to delist wolves in Utah – and everywhere else for good measure. Riding flank for Bishop is Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), who declared that "returning wolf management to the states isn't a partisan issue that pits Republicans against Democrats. It's about states' rights." However, so far no House Democrats have joined the group of Republican gunslingers in co-sponsoring the bills.
Western Republicans in the House are up in arms about wolves in part because they pin the blame on the predators for declines in elk and deer populations; the states of both Wyoming and Idaho have issued reports blaming wolves for ungulate declines. Other scientists, however, have pointed the finger at climatic extremes and the actions of another dangerous critter – western lawmaker's own gun-toting constituents. A report released in November by Oregon’s department of fish and wildlife concluded that illegal take of deer is equal to the number of animals killed lawfully.
But to western lawmen, the real Black Bart is always the federal government. Rep Bishop's new bills are actually called the "State of Utah Wildlife Management Sovereignty Act" and the "State Sovereignty Wildlife Management Act." Sticking to his guns when it comes to states’ rights, Bishop also recently introduced a proposed amendment to the federal Constitution designed to reign in what he sees as a “power-hungry, overreaching national government.” His Repeal Amendment would kill “any federal law, regulation, tax, or unfunded mandate” if two thirds of the states voted to overturn an action by Congress.
But Rep. Bishop is probably hoping that states won’t vote to repeal the federal funding sources that provide 30% of the annual budget for Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources. Or discontinue massive subsidies to western ranchers, irrigators, and miners. And Utah’s burr under the federal government’s saddle apparently doesn’t quite see the irony in the fact that one of the most robust sections of his web site is the one listing all of the appropriations requests for federal money he has made on behalf of a long list of his Utah constituents.
Maybe having a federal marshal around isn't so bad after all…