The hardest challenge for advocates of one position or the other is bringing your allies along when you come to the point of compromise.
That’s where 10 environmental groups found themselves this week when they decided to settle with the Obama Administration and allow wolves in Idaho and Montana to be delisted. After building a sense of outrage over the idea of allowing Idaho and Montana to manage wolves and to allow hunting, the groups have to explain to their supporters why they will allow it to happen.
Many wolf advocates have called the groups sellouts and suggested their leaders will now have wolf blood on their hands. But the groups that settled said without the agreement, a bill in Congress that delisted solely on political grounds was all but certain.
The 10 groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, agreed to ask U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy to restore the delisting they successfully fought in Montana and Idaho so the Endangered Species Act can still be used to protect species that aren't as popular as wolves.
Kieran Suckling, the usually unyielding leader of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has won so many Endangered Species Act-based cases, gave in when he got what he wanted. Wolves in Oregon and Washington will be afforded to the full protection of the law.
He made the astute political judgment that those two states would support wolf recovery and allow a second large wolf population to grow and keep the population expanding, perhaps into California. Utah wolves also are under full ESA protection as are Wyoming’s.
The 10 groups got no guarantees that Congress won’t act, though if Molloy goes along it there is less political pressure in support of delisting legislation. They got a process for scientifically determining how many wolves should be in a Rocky Mountain population before their five-year deal runs out.
But they gave up solid floors for the wolf population above the 150-wolf minimum set when the Idaho and Montana plans were approved early in the century. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar held the line and said no when they wanted to put in the pact the 520 wolf goal Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game set in a 2008 plan aimed at establishing a hunting season. Instead it references the 2008 plan, but says the federal government can allow the states to implement other management plans it "deems to be satisfactory."
That was one of the reasons the Western Watersheds Project and its bombastic executive director Jon Marvel did not go along with the deal. Western Watersheds also could not agree to the delisting of wolves along state boundaries. It regularly argues in court that decisions on wildlife and public land cases should only be made on the science and the law, said Brian Ertz, a spokesman for the group.
Had Interior allowed the 520 Idaho floor for wolves in the deal, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter would have likely used it as grounds to oppose it. In other words he could have made a good case not to take yes for an answer to a hunting season this fall.
He still will not like the fact it leaves open the chance for environmentalists to sue in the future and place wolves back on the list in Idaho. That alone could make it hard for him to say much good about the deal, let alone support it as Montana Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer has.
But when he announced the agreement during a speech to the Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce luncheon Friday, the crowd of about 50 business leaders there applauded, the Coeur d’Alene Press reported.
Some sportsman groups also likely will continue the push for a legislative fix, especially since Utah and Wyoming are on the outside looking in. In fact, the many different political pressures coming from all sides will help keep all sides honest as they move forward.
But first Molloy has decide to go along.