The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued rules today removing Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains, including Idaho, Montana, eastern Oregon and Washington, and northern Utah, and proposing to remove protections in the Great Lakes. The agency also announced that it is removing protection from gray wolves in 29 eastern states and beginning a status review of the newly recognized eastern wolf, as well as wolves in the Pacific Northwest and Southwest.
“The feds are declaring victory, but gray wolves still only survive in 5 percent of their former range, and even in those places they continue to face a real threat of persecution. Taking protection away from them now is premature and will impede the long-term recovery of wolves in the United States,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains were delisted pursuant to a rider attached to the federal budget bill by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). The rider marks the first time an animal or plant has been removed from the endangered species list by Congress.
Wolf populations have only begun to recover in Oregon and Washington, where a very small number of packs have established. In Utah, only individual wolves have been sighted. Wolf numbers are strong in Montana and Idaho, but both states would like to drastically reduce numbers in a misguided attempt to increase elk populations and reduce livestock conflicts.
Wolves in the Great Lakes region are being proposed for delisting even though they remain threatened by disease and killing by people. State wildlife agencies have made it clear that if federal protection is eliminated, they would drastically reduce wolf populations; Minnesota’s plan resurrects a version of the old bounty system by paying state-certified predator controllers $150 for each wolf killed. The Wisconsin plan seeks to reduce the state population by half to reach a target of 350 wolves.
Plans to remove protections for the gray wolf in 29 eastern states will mean that any wolf that wanders into that region from the Great Lakes or Canada could be immediately killed.
“While there have been important strides in wolf recovery over the past several decades, the job is far from complete, and lifting protections now is a big step in the wrong direction,” Greenwald said. “Wolves are an important part of our natural heritage and honoring that means giving them the best chance possible for healthy, robust populations.”
The Center has called for a national plan that will provide a roadmap for recovering wolves in suitable habitat across the United States.