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Deciding which plants and animals receive protection under the federal Endangered Species Act should be based on science, not on politics. For Congress to take on that task without the expert knowledge it requires simply because one species — wolves — engenders controversy would run counter to the sound reasons Congress passed the ESA in 1973.

Utah Congressmen Jim Matheson and Jason Chaffetz want states to decide the fate of wolves as an exception under the ESA. And now the Utah Wildlife Board has been persuaded by hunting groups with a special interest to urge the entire congressional delegation to join them in this folly.

Congress should stick to its assigned duties — enacting reasonable immigration laws, declaring war when necessary — instead of abdicating those responsibilities to the executive branch or to the states. The federal legislation to protect endangered species was designed to take the decision making out of the realm of politics and leave it to scientists. That's where it should stay.

Wolves have always attracted deep, abiding hatred among Western ranchers and hunters, because they compete with humans as top-of-the-food-chain predators. Protecting them is different from helping assure the survival of condors, prairie dogs or humpback chubs. Those animals sometimes get in the way of human activities, but they don't dine on the same menu items as humans. Wolves sometimes do. And humans can't abide that.

Hunting groups blame wolves for reducing the numbers of elk and deer, but statistics don't consistently support that claim. Wolves kill mainly sick, weak or old animals, often improving the wildlife herds. For centuries, wolves, cougars, elk, deer, moose and other creatures in the Western ecosystem survived well together. It was a system in balance. Humans have upset the balance, and the reintroduction of wolves, after they were exterminated by the mid-20th century, is part of an effort to restore the natural ecosystem. And that effort is worthwhile, even if hunters in some areas have to give up some of their prey to wolves.

Ranchers complain that wolves are killing their cattle and sheep. But dogs and coyotes kill many more livestock than do wolves, but are not targeted as their wild brothers are. Wolves eat coyotes, too. Further, laws are in place to compensate ranchers for wolf depredation, and there are other measures to prevent wolf attacks.

Wolves naturally roam widely. That's why a federal court ruled their habitat must be considered regionally. Federal agencies should continue to decide how best to ensure their survival.