Trump Administration Strips Protections from Gray Wolves

Photo by Holly Kuchera
Photo by Holly Kuchera

Fish and Wildlife Service removes the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act, halting wolf recovery

Washington, DC—Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) finalized a rule removing protections for all gray wolves in the lower 48 states except for a small population of Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.

The rule, proposed last year, outraged Americans, with approximately 1.8 million comments submitted by the public opposing delisting. Additionally, 86 members of Congress (in both the House and Senate), 100 scientists, 230 businesses, and 367 veterinary professionals submitted letters opposing the wolf delisting plan. Even the scientific peer reviews commissioned by the USFWS itself found that the agency’s proposal contained numerous errors and appeared to come to a predetermined conclusion, with inadequate scientific support. Despite this public and scientific outcry, the rule issued today removes all federal protections from gray wolves.

The following are statements from a coalition of organizations that work toward wildlife conservation:

“This is no ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment for wolf recovery,” said Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice attorney. “Wolves are only starting to get a toehold in places like northern California and the Pacific Northwest, and wolves need federal protection to explore habitat in the Southern Rockies and the Northeast. This delisting decision is what happens when bad science drives bad policy — and it’s illegal, so we will see them in court.”

“By turning over gray wolf management to the states, the Fish and Wildlife Service is relying on local management regimes that often undermine gray wolf recovery efforts,” said Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute. “Many of the states’ wolf management plans are vague and unenforceable, lack sources of funding, and prioritize recreational hunting interests over the maintenance of viable wolf populations. Gray wolves are apex predators who play a vital role in ecosystems, contribute to a multibillion-dollar outdoor tourism industry, and are a beloved symbol of our nation’s wildlands.”

“Wolves are too imperiled and ecologically important to be cruelly trapped or gunned down for sport,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration is catering to trophy hunters, the livestock industry, and other special interests that want to kill wolves. We’ll do everything we can to stop it.”

“Secretary Bernhardt’s decision to remove critical protections for still-recovering gray wolves is unconscionable, especially in a time our wildlife are facing mass extinction. Wolves play a vital role in balancing our natural system,” said Lena Moffitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. “Instead of stripping their protections, we should put more effort into coexistence with wolves, and ensure their continued presence and full recovery.”

“We are disappointed in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s final determination to remove federal protections for the gray wolf in the lower 48 states,” stated Angela Grimes, CEO of Born Free USA. “With current gray wolf habitats spanning states that are hostile towards the species, gray wolves still teeter on the verge of recovery. Delisting this American icon appeases a small percentage of the American public and will surely damage the viability of future populations.”

“Without the protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act, gray wolves would never have recovered in the places where they are now,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “By removing protections across the country, the Trump administration is abandoning efforts to restore this iconic American species to millions of acres of wild habitat.”

“Protecting and restoring the iconic call of the wolf is our duty to not only the populations of wolves that continue to be persecuted to this day, but to the ecosystems that depend upon them. Removing protections for wolves under the Endangered Species Act ensures that these much-maligned creatures will continue to struggle for their rightful place in the natural world,” stated Louie Psihoyos, founder and executive director of Oceanic Preservation Society. “As we confront the sixth mass extinction, we must work to defend every living component to maintain nature’s complex and delicate balance.”

“Wolves are just beginning a tentative recovery in states like Washington, Oregon, California, and Colorado, and the howl of the wolf is completely absent from their natural habitats in states like Nevada and Utah,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “Removing Endangered Species Act protections before wolf populations are secure, and before their recovery is complete, is ecologically irresponsible.”

“Where wolves are unprotected, they are mercilessly persecuted, as we've already had a glimpse of in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana,” said Lindsay Larris, Wildlife Program director at WildEarth Guardians. “Now they are defenseless across their range, which is bad news for wolves, but good news for people who want to shoot and trap them. The Trump administration is once again destroying our shared natural resources for the interests of a few."

“Stripping protections for gray wolves is premature and reckless,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders of Wildlife president and CEO. “Gray wolves occupy only a fraction of their former range and need continued federal protection to fully recover. We will be taking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to court to defend this iconic species.”

“If we want to save wolves, we need a national plan, if not a continental one,” said Steve Blackledge, Environment America’s Conservation Program senior director. “Wolves need plenty of space to roam, and it just doesn’t make sense to create arbitrary boundaries for them. Do we really want to lose the hearty howl of the gray wolf on our watch?”

“You cannot have a national wolf recovery without putting forward a national wolf recovery plan. This still has not happened, so eliminating federal protections for gray wolves is a huge setback in recovery efforts,” said Sylvia Fallon, senior director of wildlife for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Wolves are still missing from much of their remaining habitat in the West and throughout the Northeast. As we face a biodiversity crisis of global proportions, now is the time to restore species to the landscape — not dial back efforts. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has decided on the exact opposite.”

“The many threats that caused wolves to become endangered still exist,” said Nancy Warren, executive director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition. “States have shown over and over again that wolf management is based on politics rather than science. The cumulative effects of interpack strife, aggressive hunting and trapping practices, legal and illegal killings, car collisions, and disease impact not only wolf populations, but also the social structure of packs well beyond the extent of each individual threat.”

“Once large carnivores lose federal protections, the states often open liberal hunting and trapping seasons, purposely depleting populations,” said Garrick Dutcher, research and program director for Living with Wolves. “History shows this to be especially true for the gray wolf, whose recovery is underway, but nowhere near complete. There is no biologically sound reason to lessen or remove protections for wolves.”

“The return of the wolf reflects more fully functional and wild ecosystems,” said Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center. “While we agree that wolves cannot be recovered everywhere they used to be found, there is still plenty of suitable habitat left in areas where wolves have yet to recover. Vast swaths of existing, highly suitable habitat in the Southern Rockies, parts of the West, and the Northeast will now remain forever impoverished by reduced biological diversity and impaired ecosystem health.”

“Wolves are only recovered in 15 percent of their range at best,” stated Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote. “Only anti-wolf bias, and certainly not credible science, would conclude that 15 percent constitutes a significant portion of wolves’ historic range. This completely contravenes the notion of evidence-based policy or science-based wolf recovery.”

“Given that gray wolves in the lower 48 states occupy a fraction of their historical and currently available habitat, the Fish and Wildlife Service determining they are successfully recovered does not pass the straight face test,” said John Mellgren, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “On its face, this appears to be politically motivated. While the Trump administration may believe it can disregard science, the law does not support such a stance. We look forward to having a court hear our science-based arguments for why wolves desperately need Endangered Species Act protections to fully recover.”

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Margie Fishman, (202) 446-2128, margie@awionline.org

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