Trump administration seeks to delist gray wolf, return management to states, tribes
Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced Wednesday the Trump administration will seek to lift endangered-species protection for the gray wolf in the Lower 48, a move long sought by state officials and ranchers that promptly ran into opposition from wildlife groups.
Mr. Bernhardt made the announcement in a speech at the 84th North American Wildlife Natural Resources Conference in Denver.
“Today, Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon propose a rule to delist the gray wolf in the lower 48 states and return management of the species back to the states and tribes,” said a service spokesperson.
Listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, the gray wolf has seen its numbers rebound from about 1,000 to more than 5,000 in the Northern Rocky Mountains and Western Great Lakes after decades of trapping.
In 2017, the wildlife service finished delisting the Northern Rockies population in what was described as “one of our nation’s great conservation success stories.” Several states, including Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, now hold wolf hunting seasons.
“Recovery of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act is a one of our nation’s great conservation successes, with the wolf joining other cherished species, such as the bald eagle, that have been brought back from the brink with the help of the ESA,” the spokesperson said. “Once the proposed rule has published in the Federal Register, the public will have an opportunity to comment.”
Big thank you to the 84th North American Wildlife Natural Resources Conference for hosting me today. Cooperating with state, local, tribal partners to implement effective conservation stewardship efforts has will be a priority of the Trump Admin, particularly at @Interior. pic.twitter.com/molvQn6kkp Acting Secretary David Bernhardt (@DOIDepSec) March 6, 2019
Wildlife groups decried the effort, arguing that the gray wolf has yet to reach full recovery across its historic range, which once spanned most of North America. Wildlife service officials have said such a showing is not required to prove the species is no longer in danger of extinction.
Erik Molvar, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, said wolf populations are still below viable minimums in Oregon, Washington and California. The animals have only recently begun to make their way to Colorado, Utah and Nevada.
“From the Grand Canyon to the Colorado Rockies to the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, there are vast areas of public land that offer habitat ideally suited to wolves, and yet the howl of the wolf is absent from these parts of its native range,” Mr. Molvar said. “To strip away federal protections now is to ensure that the howl will remain forever missing.”
Animal welfare groups scored a legal victory in 2014, when a federal judge ordered ESA protections reinstated for the gray wolf in the Western Great Lakes states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
In November, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Fish and Wildlife Service to relist the wolf, arguing that the agency failed to provide a national recovery plan.
Collette Adkins, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the proposed delisting would “slow or completely halt recovery of wolves in more of their former range.”
“This disgusting proposal would be a death sentence for gray wolves across the country,” Ms. Adkins said. “The Trump administration is dead set on appeasing special interests that want to kill wolves. We’re working hard to stop them.”
Rep. Dan Newhouse, Washington Republican, cheered the move to “return management to the states,” citing the gray wolf’s growth in his state. Wolves in the western two-thirds remain under federal protection, while those in the eastern third were delisted in 2011.
Last year, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reported a 6 percent increase in the population from 2017, with at least 122 wolves in 22 packs, including 14 known breeding pairs.
“The best available science shows that the gray wolf has successfully recovered from the danger of extinction and no longer requires federal protection,” Mr. Newhouse said. “We can see in Washington state that the wolf population is growing quickly while being effectively managed by the Washington Department of Fish Wildlife in the eastern third of the state.”
Reps. Vern Buchanan, Florida Republican, and Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat, co-chairs of the Animal Protection Caucus, released a statement opposing the delisting move.
“These iconic creatures are integral to ecosystems across the country and in many regions are beginning a fragile recovery,” said the statement. “This proposal would threaten that possibility.”
The gray wolf thrives north of the border. An estimated 7,000 to 11,200 gray wolves make their home in Alaska, according to Defenders of Wildlife, while another 60,000 live in Canada.