US Won’t Restore Protections for Wolves in Rockies, Proposes National Recovery Plan
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Feb 03, 2024
In this February 2021, photo released by California Department of Fish and Wildlife, shows a gray wolf (OR-93) near Yosemite, Calif. Federal wildlife officials announced Friday, Feb. 2, 2024, that they have rejected requests from conservation groups to restore protections for gray wolves across portions of six western states, saying the population in those states is strong. (California Department of Fish and Wildlife via AP, File)
BY TODD RICHMOND AND MATTHEW BROWN
Federal wildlife officials on Friday rejected requests from conservation groups to restore protections for gray wolves across the northern U.S Rocky Mountains, saying the predators are in no danger of extinction as some states seek to reduce their numbers through hunting.
The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service also said it would work on a first-ever national recovery plan for wolves, after previously pursuing a piecemeal recovery in different regions of the country. The agency expects to complete work on the plan by December 2025.
The rejection of the conservation groups’ petitions allows state-sanctioned wolf hunts to continue in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Federal officials estimated the wolf population in the region that also includes Washington, California and Oregon stood at nearly 2,800 animals at the end of 2022.
“The population maintains high genetic diversity and connectivity, further supporting their ability to adapt to future changes,” the agency said in a statement.
Conservationists who say wolves remain imperiled after coming back from near-extinction last century blasted the decision, complaining that Idaho and Montana have approved increasingly aggressive wolf-killing measures including trapping, snaring and months-long hunting seasons.
“We are disappointed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is refusing to hold the states accountable to wolf conservation commitments they made a decade ago,” said Susan Holmes, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition.
Antipathy toward wolves for killing livestock and big game dates to early European settlement of the American West in the 1800s, and it flared up again after wolf populations rebounded under federal protection. That recovery has brought bitter blowback from hunters and farmers angered over wolf attacks on big game herds and livestock. They contend protections are no longer warranted.
Congress in 2011 stripped Endangered Species Act protections from wolves in the Northern Rockies region.
The Trump administration removed Endangered Species Act protections for wolves across the remainder of the U.S. just before the Republican left office in 2020. But a federal judge in 2022 restored protections outside of the Northern Rockies.
In response to Friday’s announcement, the Republican chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee called on the wildlife service to lift remaining protections for gray wolves.
“It remains clear that the gray wolf is a recovered species, and its management should be transferred over to the states. It’s time for the federal government to get out of the way,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas.
Wolf management is already is under state jurisdiction in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and portions of Oregon, Washington and Utah.
Lawmakers in Montana and Idaho are intent on culling more wolf packs, which are blamed for periodic attacks on livestock and reducing elk and deer herds that many hunters prize.
The states’ Republican governors in recent months signed into law measures that expanded when, where and how wolves can be killed. That raised alarm among Democrats, former wildlife officials and advocacy groups that said increased hunting pressure could cut wolf numbers to unsustainable levels.
Despite the hunting pressure that they are under in some states, wolves from the Nothern Rockies region have continued to expand into new areas of Washington, Oregon, California and Colorado. Colorado this winter also began reintroducing wolves to more areas of the state under a plan mandated by voters under a narrowly approved 2020 ballot initiative.
There is continued political pressure to remove protections for wolves in the western Great Lakes region. When protections were briefly lifted under the Trump administration, hunters in Wisconsin using hounds and trappers blew past the state’s harvest goal and killed almost twice as many as planned.