Today six environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s rule that removed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 states except for a small population of Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made its decision despite the science that concludes wolves are still functionally extinct in the vast majority of their former range across the continental U.S.
Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, Oregon Wild and the Humane Society of the United States.
“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.”
Nicholas Arrivo, managing attorney for the Humane Society of the United States, said, "The delisting we've challenged today represents the latest chapter in the sad saga of the Fish and Wildlife Service's failure to do its duty to protect and ensure the recovery of wolves under the Endangered Species Act. We're confident that the court will strike down this illegal decision and restore the federal protections needed to give America's wolves a genuine opportunity to recover."
“Stripping protections for gray wolves in the Lower 48—before they have fully recovered and in the middle of a wildlife extinction crisis—was based on politics, not science,” said Bonnie Rice, endangered species campaign representative at the Sierra Club. “Gray wolves are still missing from vast areas of the country. Without Endangered Species protections, wolves just starting to return to places like California and the Pacific Northwest will be extremely vulnerable. Wolves are critical to maintaining the balance of natural systems and we are committed to fighting for their full recovery.”
“We hope this lawsuit finally sets the wolf on a path to true recovery,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Restoring federal protections would allow further recovery in places like California, which is home now to just a single pack of wolves. Without federal protections, the future of gray wolves rests in the hands of state governments, many of which, like Utah and South Dakota, are hostile to wolf recovery.”
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s decision to remove Endangered Species Act protection from gray wolves in the lower-48 states threatens populations just beginning to make a comeback in national parks,” said Bart Melton, wildlife program director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “After decades of absence, gray wolves are starting to re-inhabit park landscapes in Oregon, Washington, California, and Colorado. However, these populations are far from recovered. Rather than working alongside communities to support the return of wolves, the administration unlawfully said, ‘good enough’ and removed ESA protections. We are hopeful the court will reinstate these protections.”
“It is far too premature to declare wolves recovered and to strip protections from them in the Western two-thirds of Oregon,” said Danielle Moser, wildlife program coordinator for Oregon Wild. “Removing wolves from the endangered species list would turn their management entirely over to Oregon’s embattled Department of Fish and Wildlife, which continues to push for hunting and trapping of the state’s already fragile wolf population.”
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared a premature victory with its reckless decision to strip gray wolves of federal ESA protections,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO with Defenders of Wildlife. “This decision, if it stands, will short circuit gray wolf recovery, limit the range available to wolf packs, and subject wolves to fragmented state laws, some with hostile anti-wolf policies. Defenders is challenging this decision in court and pushing the agency to reinstate needed legal protections.”
Gray wolf recovery in the United States should be an American conservation success story. Once found nationwide, gray wolves were hunted, trapped, and poisoned for decades; by 1967 there were fewer than 1,000 wolves in one isolated part of the upper Midwest. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act in 1978. Today there are recovering wolf populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho; wolves have begun to inhabit Washington, Oregon, and California; and unclaimed wolf habitat remains in states like Maine, Colorado and Utah.
Last year, 1.8 million Americans submitted comments opposing delisting. Additionally, 86 members of Congress (in both the House and Senate), 100 scientists, 230 businesses, Dr. Jane Goodall from the Jane Goodall Institute, and 367 veterinary professionals all submitted letters opposing the wolf delisting plan. Even the scientific peer reviews commissioned by the Fish and Wildlife Service itself found that the agency’s proposal ignored science and appeared to come to a predetermined conclusion, with inadequate scientific support.