Yesterday United States acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced a proposal to strip federal Endangered Species Act protections for wolves across nearly the entire lower-48 states, reversing gray wolf recovery in the United States.
The proposed rule would remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for all gray wolves in the lower-48 states except for a small population of Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico, where only about 114 wild wolves remain. The Service made its decision despite the fact that wolves are still functionally extinct in the vast majority of their former range across the continental United States.
Drew Caputo, Earthjustice Vice-President of Litigation for Lands, Wildlife, and Oceans, stated:
“Wolf recovery is still underway in the U.S., with wolves just starting to reappear in places like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, where they had been hunted to extinction.The Trump administration has decided to stop work before the story is finished. We have seen the result of delisting in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana where wolves that stray beyond the invisible boundaries of Yellowstone and other refuges have been shot on sight. Wolves need federal protections so they can return to the wild places where they used to roam, just as federal protections allowed the bald eagle to expand and recover before those protections were removed. We will use every tool in the toolbox to fight this anti-science, anti-wildlife policy.”
Wolves are the wild ancestors of all the domestic dogs we know and love today. This vital, keystone species once roamed throughout the United States, but centuries of trapping, hunting, and poisoning devastated the wolf population. By the 1980s, only a few small pockets of survivors remained in the continental United States.
Over the past thirty years, wolf recovery in America has had some great successes, from the reintroduction of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains to the revitalization of populations in the western Great Lakes states. But wolves have yet to recover in additional parts of the country – including the Pacific Northwest, northern California, the southern Rocky Mountains, and the Northeast – where prime wolf habitat still exists.
Without federal Endangered Species Act protections, states with increasingly hostile anti‐wolf policies will be charged with ensuring the survival of gray wolf populations. This course of action is a death knell for the still-vulnerable species. Nearly 3,500 wolves have been killed just in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming since 2011 when wolves in those states lost federal protections.
Earthjustice has been instrumental in protecting gray wolves in court for more than two decades and will continue working with its partners and clients to ensure the survival of this ecologically critical species.
Featured image: a wolf in Yellowstone National Park. Image credit Jeremy Weber, CC BY-SA 3.0.