The Biden administration declined to list the gray wolf as endangered throughout much of the West, a move that would have granted the species sweeping federal protections in the region and which environmental activists have long advocated for.
In an announcement Friday, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a “not warranted” finding for two petitions to list gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the Northern Rocky Mountains and the Western United States. The agency said it had conducted an analysis concluding that the species is not at risk of extinction in the West now or in the foreseeable future.
“Today’s announcement fails to alleviate the concerns of the millions of Americans impacted by an unchecked gray wolf population,” Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., said in a statement. “The fact that Americans have to worry about ESA rulings impacting their lives and livelihoods time and time again is illustrative of a broken system that allows bureaucrats to make decisions without local community input.”
“We know the Endangered Species Act is in desperate need of scientific reform, and congressional Republicans have been working to make these changes a reality,” he said. “Despite today’s announcement, 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 and let states and local communities manage the habitats and wildlife they know best.”
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On Thursday, Westerman led an effort joined by eight fellow GOP lawmakers to probe FWS over its ongoing National Dialogue Around Working Landscapes and Gray Wolves and Thriving Communities and Cultures. He and the other Republicans expressed concern that the agency would list the species in the Northern Rockies ecosystem despite evidence indicating that gray wolf populations have recovered.
The federal action taken Friday comes in response to an emergency petition filed in May 2021 by several environmental groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity. The groups sought to have the gray wolf relisted under the ESA to nullify state laws in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming from allowing residents to kill the species.
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“I’m incredibly disappointed that the Fish and Wildlife Service is turning a blind eye to the cruel, aggressive wolf-killing laws in Montana and Idaho,” Kristine Akland, the northern Rockies program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “By denying protections to these beautiful creatures the Service is letting northern Rockies states continue erasing decades of recovery efforts.”
“Today’s announcement tragically undermines the important restoration of gray wolf populations in suitable areas in the U.S.,” added Jamie Rappaport Clark, the president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. “Since wolves lost federal protections, unsustainable and cruel hunting regulations championed by anti-wildlife politicians and policymakers are condemning wolves to being recklessly pursued and killed throughout the Northern Rockies.”
House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said Friday that the FWS action “ignores the existential threat” posed by state laws allowing the killing of wolves.
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As a result of a 2011 bill delisting the gray wolf that was passed by Congress, Western states have removed protections for gray wolves and issued management plans calling for the species’ population to be reduced. Montana, one of those states, has argued in favor of ensuring the long-term survival of wolves while responsibly managing the population to prevent conflicts with livestock and humans.
Industry associations like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which represents cattle ranchers, and the American Farm Bureau Federation, which represents farmers, have argued in favor of delisting the gray wolf.
In 2020, the Trump administration declared the species fully recovered in the U.S. and delisted it from the ESA. Two years later, a federal district court reinstated the ESA protections in the lower 48 states, a decision that did not impact the species’ status as delisted in the Northern Rockies ecosystem.
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After more than 45 years as a listed species, the Gray Wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery,” former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in 2020. “Today’s announcement simply reflects the determination that this species is neither a threatened nor endangered species based on the specific factors Congress has laid out in the law.”