Animal protection and conservation organizations petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act as threatened throughout the contiguous United States, with the exception of the Mexican gray wolf which remains listed as endangered. If adopted, the proposal would continue federal oversight and funding of wolf recovery efforts and encourage development of a national recovery plan for the species, but would also give the Fish and Wildlife Service regulatory flexibility to permit state and local wildlife managers to address specific wolf conflicts.
Gray wolves are currently protected as endangered throughout their range in the lower 48 states, except in Minnesota where they are listed as threatened and in Montana, Idaho and eastern Oregon and Washington where they have no Endangered Species Act protections. Some members of Congress are advocating for legislation to remove all protections for wolves under federal law by delisting the animal under the Endangered Species Act. The petition proposes an alternative path to finalizing wolf recovery based on the best available science, rather than politics and fear, and would help to find a balanced middle ground on a controversial issue that has been battled out in the courts and in states with diverse views among stakeholders on wolf conservation.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said: “Several states have badly failed in their management of wolves, and their brand of reckless trapping, trophy hunting, and even hound hunting just has not been supported by the courts or by the American people. We do, however, understand the fears that some ranchers have about wolves, and we believe that maintaining federal protections while allowing more active management of human-wolf conflicts achieves the right balance for all key stakeholders and is consistent with the law.”
Wolf populations are still recovering from decades of persecution—government sponsored bounty programs resulted in mass extermination of wolves at the beginning of the last century, and the species was nearly eliminated from the landscape of the lower 48 states. Wolf number have increased substantially where the Endangered Species Act has been implemented, but recovery is still not complete, as the species only occupies as little as 5 percent of its historic range, and human-caused mortality continues to constitute the majority of documented wolf deaths.
Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “A Congressional end run around science and the Endangered Species Act will create more controversy and put wolves and the law itself in jeopardy. The better path is to downlist wolves to threatened, replace the failed piecemeal efforts of the past with a new science-based national recovery strategy,and bring communities together to determine how wolves will be returned to and managed in places where they once lived, like the Adirondacks, southern Rocky Mountains, Cascades and Sierra Nevada.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s piecemeal efforts to delist gray wolves in the northern Rockies and western Great Lakes have been roundly criticized by scientists and repeatedly rejected by multiple federal courts. In addition to denouncing the Service’s fragmented approach to wolf recovery, courts have recognized that several states have recklessly attempted to quickly and dramatically reduce wolf numbers through unnecessary and cruel hunting and trapping programs. The public does not support recreational and commercial killing of wolves, as evidenced by the recent decision by Michigan voters in the November 2014 election to reject sport hunting of wolves. Wolves are inedible, and only killed for their heads or fur.
Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, said: “Complex conservation problems require sophisticated solutions. The history of wolf protection in America is riddled with vitriolic conflict and shortsightedness and it is time for a coordinated, forward-thinking approach that removes the most barbaric treatment of this iconic species and focuses on the long-term viability of wolf populations throughout the country.”
The threatened listing proposed by the petition would promote continued recovery of the species at a national level so that it is not left perpetually at the doorstep of extinction. A threatened listing would also permit the Fish and Wildlife Service some regulatory flexibility to work with state and local wildlife managers to appropriately address wolf conflicts, including depredation of livestock.
Groups filing the petition include national organizations and those based in wolf range states:
- Born Free USA
- Center for Biological Diversity
- Detroit Audubon
- Detroit Zoological Society
- The Fund for Animals
- Friends of Animals and Their Environment
- Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf
- Help Our Wolves Live
- Howling for Wolves
- The Humane Society of the United States
- Justice for Wolves
- Midwest Environmental Advocates
- Minnesota Humane Society
- Minnesota Voters for Animal Protection
- National Wolfwatcher Coalition
- Northwoods Alliance
- Predator Defense
- Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians
- Wildlife Public Trust and Coexistence
- Wildwoods (Minnesota)
- Wisconsin Federated Humane Societies
- Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin
- Media Relations