Wolf Protections Could be Removed in Lower 48 States

Agriculture groups view the removal of Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves as a “conservation success story” and conservationists call it another “relentless assault on wildlife protections.” ( Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife )

Plans to remove protections on gray wolves by wildlife officials are being welcomed in agriculture, but facing criticism from conservationists.

During a speech at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Denver on March 6, Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced a proposal to lift protection for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states. A formal announcement has yet to be made but a spokesperson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that successful wolf recovery in regions of the Contiguous U.S. are a reason for the decision. Though no details are fully released it would appear that protections under the Endangered Species Act would be removed for gray wolves.

Leadership from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Public Lands Council (PLC) are applauding the move. In a joint press release, NCBA president Jennifer Houston and PLC president Bob Skinner, say it is a “conservation success story” and that this is how the Endangered Species Act is supposed to work.

“Unfortunately, as ranchers know all too well, the current Endangered Species Act rarely functions as Congress originally intended. Radical environmental activists use an endless cycle of lawsuits and procedural tricks to thwart effective conservation,” Houston and Skinner say. “That is why it has taken so long to delist the gray wolf, even though science has long shown the species had reached stable population levels. That is also why the Endangered Species Act’s overall effectiveness hovers at an abysmal rate of just two percent.”

Conservationists don’t see the move as a success story. The Endangered Species Coalition is urging the Trump Administration to continue protection and not move forward with what it sees as a political move.

“Wolves have only been restored in a tiny fraction of their historic and suitable range,” says Leda Huta, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “Wolf recovery could be one of America’s greatest wildlife conservation success stories if the Fish and Wildlife Service would finish the job it started.”

Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group based in Washington DC, views the removal of Endangered Species Act protections as just another “relentless assault on wildlife protections” by the Trump Administration.

“The return of the wolf to the northern Rockies and Great Lakes is one of America’s greatest conservation successes, but wolves are still absent from much of their historic range where there is suitable habitat. The work of recovering this iconic species is not done and we will vigorously oppose this action,” says Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife and former director of Fish and Wildlife Service.

The gray wolf was listed as endangered in 1978 in the Lower 48 states by Fish and Wildlife Service, except in Minnesota where the wolf was listed as threatened. Alaska was the only state to not have protections under the Endangered Species Act and the population is estimated to be from 7,700-11,200 wolves by Fish and Wildlife Service in 2017.

During the past few decades there have been efforts to reintroduce wolves in the Rocky Mountains, Northwest and Great Lakes. Population estimates by Fish and Wildlife Service in 2014 and 2016 have wolf numbers at 3,765 wolves in the Great Lakes region and 1,782 wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains. However, those numbers aren’t reflective of some recent improvements in some states. For instance, Washington’s wolf population were listed at just 68 wolves in the data. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) annual winter survey in 2018 determined there are at least 122 wolves, 22 packs and 14 successful breeding pairs in the state.

The successful reintroduction of wolves in states like Oregon and Washington have also led to conflicts with livestock producers. In Washington, the Old Profanity Territory pack has attacked 19 cattle this past year leading to several wolves being culled from the pack. Oregon has its own problem with livestock predation after a single pack killed eight cattle this past year.

How to address wolves has also been the cause of angst recently between livestock producers and conservationists with activist groups protesting a wolf management board they sit on in Oregon earlier this year.

The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association is a member of the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan board that had been protested and sees the possible delisting as a benefit to farmers and ranchers.

“Ranchers have suffered many losses as a result of wolves – this will mean protection and resolution for those who haven’t had coverage from the state’s wolf plan,” says Executive Director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association Jerome Rosa. “The recovery of the species has been much greater than anyone expected. This shows the plan was a success, now we need to make sure farmers and ranchers can protect themselves and their livelihoods.”

For more information about livestock depredation cases involving wolf packs and other wolf news read the following stories:

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