Policy ForumSCIENCE AND LAW

Rescuing Wolves from Politics: Wildlife as a Public Trust Resource

Science  30 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6051, pp. 1828-1829
DOI: 10.1126/science.1207803

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Summary

In April 2011, the U.S. Congress removed Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. In an unprecedented action, Congress sidestepped the provisions of the law, removing protections via a legislative rider (1). Absent these protections, management authority has returned to state governments, which, citing wolves' impacts on domestic livestock and wild game, have exhibited hostility toward wolves. We examine the wildlife trust doctrine as a tool for promoting the conservation of wolves and other imperiled species under state management. We argue that this doctrine is best understood as establishing a legal obligation for states to conserve species for the benefit of their citizens. However, for the wildlife trust to act as a check against interests that promote exploitation over conservation, courts must use the doctrine to hold states accountable rather than grant excessive deference to management agencies.