Wolf delisting across lower 48 to be announced today

Thursday October 29, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today will announce a new rule to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, is slated to make the announcement at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife refuge in Bloomington, Minnesota.

The move will hand wolf management back to individual states and tribal governments, allowing each state to decide if hunting and trapping should be allowed to cull wolf numbers.

The federal plan will “delist” wolves across all the contiguous U.S., even where they do not exist, although acts of Congress already removed federal protections for Rocky Mountain and other western wolves.

The plan — first promised by the Trump Administration in June 2018 and formally announced in March 2019 — is being heralded as a success story for the Endangered Species Act and a chance to let states decide how to handle the big canine that is vilified by some people and idolized by others.

While the rule applies to the entire Lower 48 states, it will have the most impact in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where sizable populations of gray wolves exist and where states could soon resume hunting and trapping seasons to cull their numbers.

The new rule, which will take effect after a 30-day period once published in the Federal Register, is another do-over for the Fish and Wildlife Service after federal courts have repeatedly nullified past efforts to scratch gray wolves off the Endangered Species Act list as debate rages on whether the big canines are truly “recovered.”

The most recent of those delisting efforts, in 2012, allowed state agencies to hold wolf trapping and hunting seasons for three years until late 2014 when a federal judge ruled that the agency had erred in taking wolves off the endangered list too soon.A federal appeals court upheld the decision in 2017, keeping wolves protected across the region to this point.

The slaughter of wolves in many states has been horrific during times of delisting, and as we have witnessed in Idaho where they are state managed. Delisting wolves across the contiguous U.S. threatens to put them at risk of falling back to endangered status.

Wolves have not rebounded in enough areas to be declared an officially “recovered” species. Dropping protections across the Lower 48 would doom any chances of their dispersal to other states where the species could thrive if allowed to.

Instead of pursuing further wolf recovery, the Fish and Wildlife Service has just adopted the broadest, most destructive delisting rule yet. The courts recognize, even if the feds don’t, that the Endangered Species Act requires real wolf recovery, including in the southern Rockies and other places with ideal wolf habitat. -Collette Adkins

Gray wolves occupy only a fraction of their former range and need continued federal protection to fully recover.

Wolves across the Lower 48 states were hunted, trapped and poisoned to near-extinction for centuries after European settlement until they gained federal protection in 1975. By then only about 500 wolves remained in the Lower 48 states, all of them in Northeastern Minnesota.

There are now an estimated 6,000 gray wolves (sometimes called eastern or timber wolves) roaming in the Lower 48 states, including about 2,700 in Minnesota, more than 1,000 in Wisconsin and more than 500 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Wolves have been technically listed as “threatened’’ for most of the last 40 years in Minnesota, which has allowed limited, targeted trapping of wolves by the U.S. Department of Agriculture near where pets and livestock have been killed. That program has killed about 200 wolves each year in Minnesota even under their protected status. Wolves have been listed as “endangered’’ in Wisconsin and Michigan and no lethal control has been allowed since 2014.

Other stable populations are located in the Rocky Mountain west and Pacific Northwest. Colorado voters next week will decide whether their state should reintroduce wolves to that ecosystem.

The proposal would not impact Mexican gray wolves, which are listed separately under the Endangered Species Act. The estimated 12,000 gray wolves in Alaska also are not impacted by the move.