The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that wolves in the Northern Rockies may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The decision comes in response to an emergency petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund and Sierra Club.
Today’s decision begins a formal status review of gray wolves across the western United States. While the Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately restore wolf protection on an emergency basis as the petition requested, the agency determined that protecting the species in the northern Rockies or across the western United States may be warranted based largely on new laws in Idaho and Montana that authorize the widespread killing of wolves.
Numerous Tribal nations are also calling for the emergency relisting of gray wolves and for the Biden administration to honor treaty and trust obligations that require consultation with the Tribes on protection and management of gray wolves.
“I’m hopeful that wolves will eventually get the protection they deserve, but the Fish and Wildlife Service should have stopped the wolf-killing now,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Anti-wolf policies in Idaho and Montana could wipe out wolves and erase decades of wolf recovery. We’re glad that federal officials have started a review, but wolves are under the gun now so they need protection right away.”
“We’re glad the Service has taken this important first step toward restoring the federal protections that Idaho and Montana’s wolves desperately need, but it isn’t enough,” said Nicholas Arrivo, managing attorney for wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States. “Wolves simply cannot afford to be exposed to months of cruel and wanton slaughter while the Service completes its review. Without an emergency relisting now, there may not be much of a population left to protect when the process is complete.”
“Today’s decision by the Service is a step toward recognizing serious new threats to wolves from hostile state management policies, but it falls short in granting the emergency protection that wolves need right now,” said Bonnie Rice, senior representative with Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. “The goal of Montana and Idaho’s extreme new laws is to decimate wolf populations in the northern Rockies. It makes no sense to allow wolves to be driven back to the brink of extinction and reverse over 40 years of wolf recovery efforts.”
“Today’s announcement from the Biden administration to follow the science showing that gray wolves in the Northern Rockies need federal protections as mandated under the Endangered Species Act is the right decision,” said Tracie Letterman, vice president of federal affairs at the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “We are hopeful this will lead to full protections for this important population, and in the meantime strongly encourage the administration to protect these vulnerable wolves through an emergency relisting.”
Idaho’s new laws took effect July 1. Montana’s general wolf-hunting season began today. Trapping for wolves in Montana will begin two weeks earlier this year, on Nov. 29, and extend two weeks later to March 15 as a result of the new law.
Idaho’s new law could wipe out up to 90% of the state’s wolf population. It calls for private contractors to kill wolves, allows hunters and trappers to kill an unlimited number of wolves, and permits trapping year-round on private lands across the state. People can also chase wolves with hounds or run them over with all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.
Montana’s new laws risk the killing of approximately 85% of the state’s wolf population. They permit the use of strangulation snares, night hunting and bait to hunt and trap wolves. Hunters and trappers can kill up to 10 wolves each and can be reimbursed for their expenses killing wolves through a new bounty program. While Montana previously set strict quotas outside Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks to limit killing of park wolves, those quotas have been eliminated.
The Endangered Species Act requires that the Service make a final decision within one year of the May 26, 2021, petition.
- Madeline Bove