USFWS Formally Proposes Nationwide Gray Wolf Delisting
Last month we welcomed a reprieve for gray wolves when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that the proposed nationwide delisting of wolves in lower 48 had been delayed indefinitely. Wildlife advocacy organizations, scientific communities, and some members of Congress celebrated this short lived victory until just hours ago when USFWS formally resurrected the controversial gray wolf delisting proposal.
The USFWS plans to remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the gray wolf (Canis lupus) in the contiguous United States. Federal ESA protections would remain only for the small population of Mexican gray wolves (Canis lupus baileyi) in the desert Southwest. Between 2011 and 2012, ESA protections had already been lifted from gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountain states of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and the western Great Lake states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, and some 1,600 wolves have since been killed by hunters and trappers in those states. While today’s delsiting proposal will not directly impact wolves in these areas, the small number of wolves on the West Coast and wolves that have slowly been moving back into historically occupied areas like the southern Rocky Mountains and Northeast may never recover if this plan is implemented.
What about Wolves in the Northeast?
Another interesting wrinkle is that the proposal includes plan to promote the eastern wolf (Canis lupus lycaon) to a distinct species (Canis lycaon).
There are three species of wolves in the world: the gray wolf (Canis lupus), the red wolf (Canis rufus), and the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis) sometimes referred to as the Abyssinian wolf. Scientists debate whether the Ethiopian wolf is a true wolf or a member of the jackal family (Canis aureus). It’s not uncommon for debate to surround the classification or status of a species, but for years most scientists have recognized that there are five subspecies of the gray wolf in North America:
– Canis lupus baileyi – the Mexican wolf or lobo.
– Canis lupus nubilus – the Great Plains or buffalo wolf.
– Canis lupus occidentalis – the Canadian or Rocky Mountain wolf.
– Canis lupus arctos – the arctic wolf
– Canis lupus lycaon – the eastern or Algonquin wolf.
In recent years, scientists have presented data indicating that Canis lupus lycaon, the eastern timber wolf, may be a distinct species, Canis lycaon, and the USFWS delisting proposal will classify these wolves as such. There is growing evidence suggesting that gray wolves are attempting to naturally re-colonize the Northeastern U.S. from neighboring populations in Canada. But can this newly-recognized species recover successfully if denied ESA protections under the proposed rule?
The USFWS’s premature delisting proposal is open for public comment for the next 90 days. Information on how to provide comments will be made available on the USFWS’s wolf information page at www.fws.gov/graywolfrecovery062013.html.
More to come.