Gray Wolves Are Endangered Again in Most US States

Conservationists are happy that wolves have renewed protections.

Grey Wolf (Canis lupus)
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The gray wolf is back on the endangered species list in most U.S. states.

The wolf had been removed from the list during the Trump administration in 2020 with conservationists arguing the decision was premature.

Now a federal judge has reversed that decision, restoring protections under the Endangered Species Act for gray wolves across much of the continental U.S. The judge ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of several animal rights groups including the Sierra Club and the Humane Society of the United States.

The lawsuit argued that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) evaluated the health of wolf populations based on a limited assessment of the species only in the Midwest, and that review was not scientifically adequate.

The ruling reinstates protections for wolves in 44 states. Gray wolves in the northern Rockies, including Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, didn’t regain protections under the decision. Those wolves are managed by state laws.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White of northern California wrote that the USFWS “failed to adequately analyze and consider the impacts of partial delisting and of historical range loss on the already-listed species.”

A Chance to Fully Recover

Conservationists weighed in on the listing change.

“Today is a monumental victory for wolves who will now be protected from state-sponsored bloodbaths,” said Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, in a statement.

“After having yet another wolf delisting overturned in federal court, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should finally learn its lesson. Instead of continuing to devise convoluted excuses to strip these beloved animals of legal protections, the agency must develop a plan for meaningful recovery across the species’ range and ensure that states will not decimate their wolf populations.”

They point out that all wolves must be protected.

“Today's ruling restoring much-needed federal protections means that wolves will have a chance to fully recover and carry out their important ecological and cultural roles across the country,” said Bonnie Rice, senior representative for the Sierra Club, in a statement.

“Instead of prematurely removing protections for wolves, the Fish and Wildlife Service should once and for all commit to their full recovery, including immediately reinstating protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies.”

About Gray Wolves

The gray wolf was named an endangered species in 1974 after being nearly erased in the mainland U.S. With federal protection and a reintroduction program using Canadian wolves, the species has rebounded in the Northern Rockies and the Western Great Lakes.

The gray wolf is listed as a species of least concern with a stable population by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The IUCN does not list a population estimate, saying instead, "Because of the diversity in climate, topography, vegetation, human settlement and development of wolf range, wolf populations in various parts of the original range vary from extinct to relatively pristine."

There has been much back and forth between conservation groups and the USFWS about whether the gray wolf should remain an endangered species. Before the delisting in 2020, the last attempt was under the Obama administration. The effort was met with strong opposition and was withdrawn.

When the 2020 delisting was proposed, 1.8 million people submitted comments online opposing it. According to Earthjustice, 86 members of Congress, 100 scientists, 230 businesses, 367 veterinary professionals, and Dr. Jane Goodall all submitted letters opposing the plan.

After protections were taken away from the gray wolf, Wisconsin held a wolf hunt in February 2021 where hunters killed 218 wolves in three days. That was nearly 100 more than the state’s allowed quota. In Idaho and Montana, states have allowed increased wolf hunting.

Defenders of Wildlife points out the importance of wolves in keeping ecosystems healthy:

“They help keep deer and elk populations in check, which can benefit many other plant and animal species. The carcasses of their prey also help to redistribute nutrients and provide food for other wildlife species, like grizzly bears and scavengers. Scientists are just beginning to fully understand the positive ripple effects that wolves have on ecosystems.”

View Article Sources
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