On July 29, a coalition of 70 conservation, Indigenous, and animal welfare groups filed a formal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to re-list the gray wolf as an endangered species throughout the American West under the Endangered Species Act.
The gray wolf has been protected under the Act since 1978, and since then, wolf populations have increased in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and now California.
On January 4, of 2021, USFWS announced that Canis lupus had recovered and was no longer listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. That means that management of wolf populations fell to states.
It is estimated that roughly 1,500 gray wolves live in Idaho, and in May of this year, Idaho lawmakers passed S1211, a bill that enables the year round trapping of wolves on private property. Wolves can be trapped, snared, poisoned, or shot, and an unlimited number of hunting tags will be issued. Governor Brad Little signed the bill into law, which took effect on July 1.
In Montana, lawmakers passed three bills that enable the hunting of wolves. SB224 would enable the use of chokehold snares. HB225 extends the wolf trapping season by 30 days. SB267 is a bill that effectively brings back bounties, or payment of expenses, for killing wolves.
But petition concerns go beyond new hunting laws and regard “poaching, genetic problems associated with low population levels, fragmented habitats, and disease outbreaks that strike at random, potentially reducing populations below critical thresholds.”
The petition calls for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect wolves in the West as a “Distinct Population Segment.”
“Wolves remain completely absent from suitable habitats or perilously close to extinction in many western states, and the handful of states surrounding Yellowstone National Park are now driving the larger populations toward extinction — endangered species listing — by ramping up wolf killing and stripping away hunting and trapping regulations in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “This petition gives Secretary Haaland and Interim Director Williams a legal and scientific blueprint for restoring federal protections and counteracting the irresponsible state policies in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
“The American West has vast tracts of public lands that offer ideal habitat for gray wolves,” said Molvar. “In order to return the wolf and restore the balance of nature, it is necessary to apply federal protections that supersede anti-wolf state politics that push wolf populations toward extinction rather than recovery.”
Top image caption and credit: Gray wolf – Canis lupus, published in 1874 – lithograph: L. Prang & Company/Library of Congress