Groups challenge Trump administration's delisting of gray wolves

James Marshall
January 17, 2021

Six environmental groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday, aiming to keep endangered species protections for wolves, which have largely recovered in northern Minnesota but are still gone from most of their native range in the United States. A separate lawsuit challenging the wolf delisting was brought by national environmental groups represented by Earthjustice.

Both were filed in U.S. District Court for Northern California.

A lawsuit was filed against the Trump administration after they ruled to strip protections for gray wolves in the lower-48 states under the Endangered Species Act except for a small population of Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.

The conservation groups have always been active on wolf recovery issues in the American West, including working with Western states to develop science-based wolf management plans, mounting cases to rein in rogue federal government wolf-killing programs, promoting recovery efforts in the Southwest for critically imperiled Mexican gray wolves, and working with local governments and landowners to deploy non-lethal tools that prevent wolf-livestock conflicts. The Endangered Species Act demands more, including restoring the species in the ample suitable habitats afforded by the wild public lands throughout the West.

There are two major wolf populations in the lower 48 states: the Western Great Lakes and the Northern Rocky Mountains. According to the Sierra Club, "wolves have begun to inhabit Washington, Oregon, and California; and unclaimed wolf habitat remains in states like Maine, Colorado, and Utah".

Gray wolf recovery in the United States should be an American conservation success story.

"We have seen what happens when "management" of wolves is returned to hostile state wildlife agencies disinterested in maintaining robust, stable, and genetically diverse wolf populations", said Lindsay Larris, Wildlife Program director at WildEarth Guardians. "After decades of absence, gray wolves are starting to re-inhabit park landscapes in Oregon, Washington, California and Colorado".

"The Endangered Species Act is incredibly successful at preventing extinctions and reversing declines", said Justin Augustine, a senior attorney at the center. Numbers started quickly growing after the state stopped offering bounties for wolf hides in the 1960s and grew further when the animals were given federal protections in the 1970s.

There are now about 2,700 wolves in Minnesota, well above the state's recovery goal, accounting for almost half of the estimated 6,000 gray wolves left in the Lower 48. "Idaho, which allows an individual to kill up to 30 wolves annually, saw the slaughter of almost 600 wolves and wolf pups in a recent 12-month period and now other states are gearing up to allow wolf hunting and trapping this fall".

Idaho Fish and Game reported 570 wolves killed in 2019-20 by hunters and traps, as well as vehicles and other causes.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared a premature victory with its reckless decision to strip gray wolves of federal ESA protections", said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO with Defenders of Wildlife.

"Stripping protections from gray wolves in the lower 48 - before they have fully recovered and in the middle of a wildlife extinction crisis- was based on politics, not science", said Bonnie Rice, endangered species campaign representative at the Sierra Club.

"Gray wolves are still missing from vast areas of the country", she said.

In Colorado, voters narrowly approved a ballot measure in November that directs the Parks and Wildlife Commission to create and implement a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves, including paying "fair compensation" for livestock losses.

Wildlife officials announced a year ago the sighting of a wolf pack in northwestern Colorado, prompting Gov. Jared Polis to issue a statement to "welcome our canine friends back to Colorado after their long absence".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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