Our nation’s assault on wildlife has been going on for centuries, with a staggering toll of animal loss that dates back to our colonial past. Over those hundreds of years, you’d be hard-pressed to identify a more vilified and persecuted species than the wolf. Today, the campaign that began with farmers and other private landowners baiting, shooting, and trapping wolves has morphed into the institutionalized trophy hunting, bounty killing and government-sponsored predator-control practices that account for their slaughter.
As the February 2021 hunt in Wisconsin made clear, with 2,380 hunting permits issued for a quota of 119 wolves and with 218 wolves killed in less than three days, the extermination of wolves is a hot conflict. It is one fueled by special interest lobbies and poorly governed state wildlife agencies. We were dismayed late last week to see the Biden administration affirm its position that gray wolves should not be afforded the protections of the Endangered Species Act.
Less than a day after taking office, President Biden issued Executive Order 13390, which directed federal agencies to review Trump administration regulations—including the delisting of gray wolves—to ensure they complied with his administration’s stated commitment to using the best available science in all decision-making bearing upon the environment and natural resources.
Last week’s announcement brings the Biden administration’s review of the delisting rule to a disheartening end. Once again, wolves are the targets of what is effectively a bipartisan onslaught. The management of this keystone species is a striking example of an issue where both major parties have supported the wrong path.
We could not be more disappointed. But we are no less determined.
It speaks volumes about wolves’ dire predicament in 2021 that Dan Ashe, head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under President Obama from 2011 to 2018, who maintained throughout his two decades at the agency that wolves no longer needed protection, recently called for the emergency relisting of wolves under the ESA, and other active measures by the federal government to shield them from attempts by states to exterminate them.
As Ashe observed, the war on wolves has entered a new phase, an era of “ecocide” in which state legislatures and wildlife management agencies in key states have abandoned any pretense of scientific management in favor of out-and-out extermination policies. They clearly cannot be trusted. This coming year, Idaho and Montana will kill up to 90 and 80 percent of their wolves, respectively, giving the green light to baiting, packs of dogs, body-gripping traps and snares, night vision equipment, unlimited firearms, use of vehicles, snaring, unrestricted limits
; and bounty payments. These states don’t care whether the animals are nursing females, newborns or alpha males. It’s open season on them all.
Our court case challenging the delisting is not over. We expect a final ruling by the court later this year and we hope that our arguments will prevail.
If they don’t, we’ll bring additional pressure on the Biden administration to live up to the promise of Executive Order 13390, and specifically its commitment to ensuring the government’s decisions “be guided by the best science and be protected by processes that ensure the integrity of Federal decision-making.”
In this case, the best available science shows that wolves should remain listed under the ESA. Multiple peer reviews commissioned by the FWS concluded that the agency failed to rely on the best available science in its evaluation of wolves’ status as a species. Dr. Carlos Carroll, for example, faulted the agency for “lack of detail and rigor” and “extreme oversimplification” in its treatment of key biological issues, as well as a failure to “provide coherent factual support or logical explanation for [its] conclusions.”
Beginning in the 1960s, a powerful force of opposition to the indiscriminate killing of wolves emerged, fueled by a deeper understanding of wolves and a greater respect for their place in our natural ecosystems. That’s the side we’ve been on for decades, and regardless of who’s in charge in Washington, DC, that’s the side we’ll always take.
We have never stood on the sidelines in the face of wolf slaughter. Over the last decade, especially, our government affairs team has helped to stave off repeated political assaults on the ESA and other federal protections. Our litigation group has filed lawsuits and petitions in pursuit of the same goals. We’ve also worked closely with other major organizations to defend and protect wolves across their entire North American range. We believe that returning protections to wolves is both legally required and scientifically necessary to ensure their recovery and survival. And we’re going to press for their restoration to protected status as if their lives depend on it—because they do.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.