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Where wolves were a federally protected species on Monday, as of Tuesday evening, wolves can now be shot on sight within 85% of the state, a.k.a. the “predator zone.”

In the predator zone, all but the northwest corner of Wyoming, wolves can be killed by any means, at any time, without a license.

Why?

Because just over a month ago, a federal appeals court upheld the USFWS’s 2012 decision to remove gray wolves in Wyoming from the endangered species list.  Tuesday night, the federal court put its ruling into action. The decision reversed a lower-court ruling that restored federal protections for the wolves in 2014, and is poised to impact wolves far beyond Wyoming’s borders.

The decision to return wolf management to Wyoming paves the way for USFWS to issue a national wolf delisting rule — meaning all wolves in the lower 48 (except Mexican wolves and red wolves) can lose protection at a time when they have claimed less than 10% of their historic range.

Moreover, Wyoming’s wolf management policies can influence expectations about wildlife management in other states.

“USFWS caved to Wyoming’s insistence on keeping the predator zone,” said Wolf Conservation Center‘s Maggie Howell. “With the service on the cusp of delisting wolves across the United States, any concessions that are allowed in Wyoming by the federal government could set a precedent for other states to bargain with. It’s both wrong and dangerous to allow a state with a history of hostile and extreme anti-wolf policies to set an example for other states to follow.”

Background

Just over four years ago in 2012, the USFWS officially stripped federal protections from Wyoming’s wolves and handed management over to the state, a controversial decision, and contradiction of the agency’s stance in the past. Although USFWS had previously criticized Wyoming’s state wolf plan on the grounds that unregulated shooting in most of the state would reduce the state’s wolf population below federally required levels, the agency took a significantly altered position, announcing that these wolves no longer warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The following day, management was handed over to the state and Wyoming’s inaugural wolf hunt commenced.

A few weeks later, a coalition of conservation groups represented by Earthjustice officially filed suit in federal district court in the District of Columbia asking “the court to declare this rule illegal, and put wolves back on the endangered species list until Wyoming adopts a responsible management plan that ensures the continued survival and recovery of wolves in the region.”

Wyoming wolves receive a reprieve in 2014

On September 23, 2014, Judge Amy Berman Jackson invalidated USFWS’ s 2012 statewide delisting. The ruling reinstated federal protections and ended management of wolves by Wyoming, a state with a kill-on-sight approach to wolf management. In its 2012 management plan Wyoming promised to maintain more than the required 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside the national parks. The judge took issue with an addendum in the plan assuring that it would maintain a buffer of wolves above the required number because it did not specify how many wolves or make the buffer binding by law. Because the addendum was legally unenforceable, the judge found the buffer to be a violation of the ESA.

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One battle over how to save endangered wolves in the Southwest ended today with a victory that bodes well for endangered species nationwide!

In May 2016, the state of New Mexico filed suit against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) after the agency, despite political opposition, forged ahead and ushered two captive wolf pups into the wild through its pup-fostering initiative. Despite the scientific merit and success of cross-fostering events, the state was granted a Temporary Restraining Order in June 2016 – blocking all Mexican gray wolf releases within the state.

USFWS has a responsibility under federal law to facilitate recovery of the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf and releases are a central part of that effort. The entire existing Mexican wolf population descended from just seven founders rescued from extinction. Given its limited gene pool, the wild population faces a genetic crisis and releasing wolves from the more genetically diverse captive population is required to mitigate inbreeding.

In light of the current circumstances surrounding the Mexican gray wolf and its perilous plight, in January 2017, USFWS the challenged the decision to restrain further releases, moving the argument on whether states can block the federal government from reintroducing endangered wolves within their borders to a federal appeals court. Eighteen other states filed a friend-of-the-court brief siding with New Mexico.

Today, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to overturn the preliminary injunction, allowing USFWS to resume wolf releases within the state!

With this ability restored, USFWS has a chance to proceed with its proposal to release two captive packs of wolves into the Gila National Forest in New Mexico in 2017, and cross-foster up to 10 captive newborn pups with wild wolf families in New Mexico and Arizona. Addressing the Mexican wolf’s genetic imperilment requires an active program of releasing more genetically diverse wolves into the wild to capitalize on the remaining genetic potential available in the captive population.

Implications Beyond the Southwest

By denying New Mexico veto power over measures to save federally protected wolves, the court ruling is a win for endangered species beyond lobos. It prevents a dangerous precedent of allowing a state to refuse recovery efforts for endangered species if they don’t feel like complying.

So let’s get to it! USFWS, the lobos are ready and the wild is calling! It’s time to release some wolves!

Background

The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) or “lobo” is the most genetically distinct lineage of wolves in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most endangered mammals in North America. By the mid-1980s, hunting, trapping, and poisoning caused the extinction of lobos in the wild, with only a handful remaining in captivity. In 1998 the wolves were reintroduced into the wild as part of a federal reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act. Today in the U.S., there is a single wild population comprising only 113 individuals – an increase from 97 counted at the close of 2015.

The Wolf Conservation Center is one of 54 facilities in the U.S. and Mexico participating in the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan – a bi-national initiative whose primary purpose is to support the reestablishment of Mexican wolves in the wild through captive breeding, public education, and research.

 

 

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In order to fund the federal government beyond April 28, Congress must finalize a spending deal this week.

Annoyed by the fact that endangered species protection decisions are by federal law based on science rather than politics, some congressional leaders are trying to slip a legislative noose around some of the nation’s most imperiled species by loading the must-pass spending bill with dozens of deadly riders. Three riders target wolves specifically – they aim to eliminate Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves nationwide including critically endangered Mexican gray wolves.

There is a very serious threat that some of these anti-species riders could become law, unless leaders in Congress stand firm in rejecting them.

URGENT: Please urge your representatives to oppose all anti-wolf riders that undermine the ESA and its scientific process.

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