End of Protections for Endangered Gray Wolves

by Ashira Morris, ODP Contributing Writer

Last week, the Trump administration removed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the Lower 48 states. The move was criticized by environmental groups, with some planning to sue over the delisting. “This is no ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment for wolf recovery,” said Kristen Boyles, an Earthjustice attorney, in a statement. “This delisting decision is what happens when bad science drives bad policy — and it’s illegal, so we will see them in court.”

There are now around 6,000 wolves, up from 1,000 when they were first listed under the Act in 1975, but there are still thousands of acres of historical habitat from Utah to Maine where wolves haven’t returned. The population is mostly in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and northern parts of the Rocky Mountains.

Why This Matters: Delisting the species leaves states responsible for any protections, and it’s possible that they’ll decide to allow hunting and trapping. Protections for wolves have already been lifted in a handful of states, including Idaho, where nearly 60 percent of the state’s wolf population was killed just last year.

The wolf populations that do exist are in isolated pockets, which makes their survival less likely. Many ranchers and hunters perceive them as a threat or nuisance. These same feelings and fears are what drove the wolves nearly to extinction: they were poisoned and shot by farmers and ranchers earlier in the 20th century. However, wolves can help keep the ecosystems they live in healthy. The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone was called a “rewilding triumph” by the Guardian earlier this year.

Part of an Anti-Science Pattern Like many of the Trump administration’s environmental policies, the delisting is not based on science. Although Interior Secretary David Bernhardt claimed that “the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery,” The Hill reported that the government’s own peer-reviewed report argued against delisting the wolves.

The proposed rule did not build on the assembled scientific information to provide coherent factual support or logical explanation for the agency’s conclusions,” one reviewer wrote, arguing that it led Interior “to reach an erroneous conclusion” in delisting the species.

Wolves on the Ballot in Colorado: The federal delisting puts extra weight on Colorado’s wolf reintroduction ballot measure that the state will vote on Tuesday. If passed, Ballot Proposition 114 would require the state to restore wolves to the state by 2023. The measure was an activist gambit after 25 years of popular support without movement from state wildlife officials, as High Country News reports. Regardless of the outcome, it’s the first time the question of bringing back a native species was put to voters.

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