Feds to Strip Protections for Gray Wolves Nationwide Before Close of 2020
August 31, 2020 — The Trump administration plans to remove federal protections for all gray wolves nationwide (except the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf) by the end of 2020, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) said Monday.
This decision comes despite robust opposition. In addition to the 1.8 million comments submitted by the public, 86 members of Congress, 100 scientists, 230 businesses, and 367 veterinary professionals all submitted letters to the USFWS opposing the wolf delisting plan.
Even the scientific peer reviews written at the behest of the USFWS expressed significant concerns regarding the scientific integrity of the proposed rule and the biological report on which it was intended to be based. Moreover, the peer review concluded that the proposal contained several scientific errors, omissions, and misinterpretations.
Plan Undermines the Endangered Species Act
While wolves cannot be recovered everywhere they used to be found – much of their Lower 48 habitat is now uninhabitable for them – there is still plenty of suitable habitat left in areas where wolves have yet to recover. In it’s proposed delisting plan, USFWS seeks to ensure the continued existence of only two regional metapopulations of gray wolves in the six states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. It ignores vast swaths of existing, highly suitable habitat in the Southern Rockies, parts of California and the Pacific Northwest, and the Northeast – regions which will remain forever impoverished by reduced biological diversity and impaired ecosystem health.
The proposal undermines the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by embracing a museum approach to conservation that would relegate wolves to a small fraction of their historic range and ignoring the fundamental purpose of the Act “to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend may be conserved.” According to scientists like William Ripple, an ecologist at Oregon State University, “we’re just uncovering the critical role that wolves and other predators serve in the ecosystem at the same time their populations are declining and are at risk.” (Rewilding’ Missing Carnivores May Help Restore Some Landscapes. The New York Times. 2018.)
What does delisting look like for wolves?
Once the federal delisting plan is adopted, USFWS will transfer management authority for all gray wolves to the states, most of which have shown little inclination to independently support gray wolf recovery at viable or ecologically effective levels.
History tells us that under the states’ authority to manage wolf populations, legal and liberal wolf control and hunting programs often becomes the predominant management strategy, with little consideration for the wolf’s ecological importance.
Nearly two thousand wolves were killed in 2011-2013 alone, and thousands more since in states where protections were temporarily or permanently lifted.
This isn’t the first attempt by USFWS to strip gray wolves of federal protection. The Interior Department had also proposed removing the gray wolf’s endangered status in 2013, but the effort was unsuccessful. In the federal mandated Independent Peer Review of the 2013 delisting rule, the five-member panel of scientists agreed unanimously that USFWS’s proposal was scientifically unsound.