If you love Wisconsin’s wolves, thank the Endangered Species Act, which turns 40 years old this week.
And if you love Wisconsin’s wolf hunt, do the same.
The landmark protection law, signed by President Richard Nixon on Dec. 28, 1973, allowed the majestic predator’s resurgence here. At the same time, the animal’s population — at more than 800 in Wisconsin last winter, just before lots of pups were born in the spring — was large enough for a second annual limited hunt, which just ended.
The proper balance between protection of such animals and their habitats, versus safeguards and conveniences for people and their property, is delicate and often controversial. Yet the gray wolf’s return and success here shows the power of the Endangered Species Act to preserve and promote some of our most vulnerable creatures, often for the benefit of all.
After years of legal battles, the gray wolf has been taken off the endangered and threatened list in Wisconsin, which makes sense, given its flourishing numbers. State and wildlife officials now must use care to ensure the wolf thrives over time and never returns to imperiled status.
The Endangered Species Act is probably best known for helping to save the bald eagle and large mammals such as the grizzly bear. Yet the act has helped lots of smaller species of insects, fish, reptiles and plants.
Application of the act has sometimes gone too far. And it can increase the cost of construction projects because of extra study and alterations.
But the act helps humans more than it hurts.
Protecting the bald eagle, for example, led to a better understanding of and restrictions on the pesticide DDT – benefiting the regal birds as well as humans. An endangered mint has been found to act as a natural insecticide. The anti-cancer drug taxol comes from an endangered tree.
Then there are the wolves in Wisconsin and across the Midwest. They help to control the deer population, which helps to protect plant diversity.
On its 40th anniversary this Saturday, the Endangered Species Act is worthy of far more celebration than detraction.