Acting interior Secretary David Bernhardt, in a March 6 speech at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Denver, stated that the US Fish and Wildlife Service plans to eliminate Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves across the contiguous United States. Currently, gray wolves are protected under the ESA in these 48 states except for those living in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and northcentral Utah (comprising the Northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segment). This population of wolves, except for those in Wyoming, were delisted in 2011 via a rider to a federal budget bill. The Wyoming wolves were delisted in 2012, had protections restored in 2014, but were again delisted by court order in 2017.
This proposed rule would cede management of the species to states, several of which have shown themselves all too willing to institute wolf hunting seasons and attempt to eradicate wolves via shockingly cruel methods. Wolves not currently protected by the federal government have legally been run over by snowmobiles and ATVs, poisoned, snared, caught in barbaric steel-jaw leghold traps, incinerated in their dens with gas or dynamite, and gunned down by aircraft.
It is, of course, dangerously premature to remove conservation mandates now. By the mid-20th century, gray wolves had been extirpated from the western United States. Their numbers, despite gradual growth since the adoption of ESA protections, are still perilously low—an estimated 5,000 gray wolves exist in the contiguous United States where hundreds of thousands once roamed.