In October, the US Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a rule removing Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection for all gray wolves in the lower 48 states except for a small population of Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. This delisting will have disastrous consequences for a species that has not yet fully recovered. The gray wolf population once numbered 2 million animals living in a majority of US states, but today only 6,100 gray wolves remain in pockets of nine states, even after nearly 50 years of federal protections.
This delisting is inconsistent with the basic tenets of the ESA because it (1) relies on state regulations that are clearly insufficient to protect gray wolves and their habitat, (2) fails to provide for the recovery of gray wolves in a significant portion of their range, (3) does not rely on the best available scientific evidence, and (4) fails to adequately assess the numerous threats that gray wolves and their habitat continue to face.
Gray wolf management will now be shifted to the states, the majority of which have prioritized recreational hunting interests and protection of livestock over the maintenance of viable wolf populations. For example, since 2011, when wolves were delisted in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, nearly 3,500 wolves have been shot and trapped in those states. During the brief time when wolves were delisted in the Great Lakes region, 25 percent of Minnesota’s wolf population was killed, and Wisconsin’s population was reduced by 18 percent. The Great Lakes states and others are expected to adopt expansive hunting and trapping seasons that allow brutal killing methods, which, in addition to the suffering caused, would devastate the gray wolf population and undermine decades of investment in restoring these animals to their native lands.