America's Gray Wolves May Lose Federal Protections

As the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decides whether to remove federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves across the continental United States, the disturbing fate of populations that have already been delisted in certain areas suggests that federal protections should remain in place.

The gray wolf, which was listed as endangered in 1974 after being nearly extirpated in the lower 48 states, was reintroduced to the United States in the 1990s. Despite the apparent success of the reintroduction program—and the ecological and economic benefits associated with the wolves’ recovery—FWS began delisting gray wolf populations in specified regions within the United States in response to political pressure. Now, FWS has proposed to remove ESA protections throughout the lower 48 states, a decision that will likely have devastating consequences for America’s wolves.

Gray wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains and the Western Great Lakes region were delisted in 2011 and 2012, respectively, and have been managed by the states according to FWS-approved plans. Where FWS has placed management in the hands of the states, gray wolves have suffered severe population declines as they succumb to aggressive hunting and inhumane steel-jaw traps and snares.

In Idaho, which was home to approximately 1,000 wolves prior to delisting, hunters and trappers killed 698 wolves in just two seasons. Nearly 200 additional wolves were killed within the first four months of Idaho’s lengthy 2013–2014 hunting season, which will continue through March 2014.

Montana’s wolves also came under intense fire following delisting, with 391 killed during the state’s first two hunting seasons. Montana state law goes so far as to prohibit the establishment of a buffer zone along the boundary of Yellowstone National Park, where radio-collared wolves critical to scientific research are at risk. In 2012, delisting expanded to Wyoming, where wolves may now be shot on sight in most of the state and more than 100 wolves—approximately one-third of the state’s estimated population—were slaughtered by the end of 2013.

Wolves in the Great Lakes region have also suffered. In both Minnesota and Wisconsin, kill quotas have been exceeded during wolf hunting seasons, demonstrating that quotas and other nominal protections do little to safeguard wolf populations.

In short, the experiences of wolf “management” within these states indicate that removal of ESA protections is a death sentence for these keystone predators. Because it has been demonstrated that states are not willing to protect and properly manage this ecologically critical species, AWI will continue to oppose the FWS proposal to delist the gray wolf throughout the lower 48 states.

What You Can Do:
There's still time to comment! Please visit the comment page by the new deadline, March 27, 2014, and indicate your opposition to the proposed rule. Below, we have included some suggested talking points to include in your comments. Please note that on the comment page, the only required field is the comment box itself, but we do suggest that you personalize your message and include your full name, city and state so that the comments can have greater impact. The suggested talking points are as follows:

  • Eliminating Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves in the Lower 48 states will halt recovery and restoration efforts, where they still only occupy about 5 percent of their historic range. The draft rule fails to consider extensive suitable wolf habitat in the Pacific Northwest, California, the southern Rocky Mountains, and the Northeast, and the importance of these areas to the long-term survival and recovery of wolves.
  • The premature delisting of wolves in states such as Wyoming, Montana and Idaho has led to reckless efforts to gun down and trap as many wolves as possible, resulting in a race to the bottom for wolf management.
  • Delisting will also negatively affect recent efforts on the west coast to restore wolves to more of their historic range in Washington, Oregon, and California and could result in the eradication of wolves from those states that still have very few wolves.
  • A large group of scientists with expertise in carnivore taxonomy and conservation biology expressed serious concerns about removing ESA protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states, making the case that the proposed rule does not reflect best available science concerning the recovery of wolves, as mandated by the ESA.
  • The extirpation of wolves and carnivores from large portions of the landscape carries broad ecological consequences. Top predators such as wolves play critical roles in maintaining a diversity of other wildlife species and in helping to maintain ecosystem health.