WASHINGTON—Today, a federal judge overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s November 2020 decision to delist wolves across most of the continental United States. This decision will restore federal Endangered Species Act protections for these iconic carnivores in response to a lawsuit brought by the Humane Society of the United States and a coalition of conservation organizations. The opinion, authored by Judge Jeffrey White of the federal district court for the Northern District of California, faulted the government for a number of legal and scientific errors, including its failure to assess threats to wolves across their entire range.
Today’s decision puts an end to the bloody and controversial management of wolves by states like Wisconsin that have had primary authority over wolves since the delisting went into effect in January 2021. What quickly followed in Wisconsin was a February 2021 trophy hunting season in which state-licensed hunters aided by packs of hounds slaughtered more than 215 wolves in under three days, exceeding the state’s quota by nearly double. Wisconsin’s plans to open a second hunt this fall were temporarily blocked by a state judge, but future hunting seasons there and elsewhere were all but guaranteed. With Endangered Species Act protections back in place for wolves, trophy hunting is once again prohibited.
Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said: “Today is a monumental victory for wolves who will now be protected from state-sponsored bloodbaths. After having yet another wolf delisting overturned in federal court, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should finally learn its lesson. Instead of continuing to devise convoluted excuses to strip these beloved animals of legal protections, the agency must develop a plan for meaningful recovery across the species’ range and ensure that states will not decimate their wolf populations.”
Previous attempts to delist gray wolves have routinely been overturned by the federal courts, most recently in a precedent-setting 2017 opinion by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in a case brought by the Humane Society of the United States and its allies. That opinion set the stage for today’s victory.
After today’s decision, only the Northern Rockies population of wolves remains unprotected. The USFWS is considering relisting Northern Rockies wolves, who are threatened by aggressive wolf-killing laws passed by Idaho and Montana this year.
“For far too long the federal government has made decisions about the fate of gray wolves based on political pressure from special interest groups, failing to heed the very clear science which shows that federal protections are necessary to allow this iconic species to recover and thrive,” said Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “Today’s decision is a fantastic victory, and it shows the Fish and Wildlife Service that they must stop making politically motivated decisions when it comes to the very survival of species. We urge the agency to use the court’s decision today to inform all of their choices about gray wolves moving forward and to immediately restore federal protections for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies as well.”
The federal government has 60 days to appeal the court’s decision.
The Humane Society of the United States and its coalition partners were represented by Earthjustice.
- Rodi Rosensweig