Considered endangered for years now, protections for wolves are coming back after U.S. District Judge Jeffery S. White in Northern California ruled to reinstate them.
The decision will immediately reestablish safeguards for wolves in the Lower 48 outside of northern Rocky Mountain states and will put federal officials in charge of managing wolf populations in the Great Lakes and the Pacific coast.
Many protections were stripped away after the Trump Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to remove wolves from the Endangered Species Act, which left much of the population vulnerable to hunting. Most common in northern Rocky Mountain states, hunting is the leading cause for the dwindling wolf population.
In his decision to reverse protections, White specifically stated, “The Service failed to adequately consider the threats to wolves outside of core populations in the Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains in delisting the entire species.”
Why did the Trump Administration revoke protections?
In October of 2022, the Trump Administration announced they would strip wolves of their Endangered Species Act protections citing the wolves have recovered their population — the population being up from 1,000 since the wolves were listed as endangered in 1967.
Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt backed up the Trump Administration’s decision stating it was scientifically correct.
“Today’s action reflects the Trump Administration’s continued commitment to species conversation based on parameters of the law and the best scientific and commercial data available,” Bernhardt said in a statement. “After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery.”
Though “full recovery” was quite misleading, as in actuality many previous wolf inhabited lands such as Utah, Colorado and Maine haven’t seen wolves in years.
During their analysis, the department also compared the recovery of other animals rescued by the Endangered Species Act such as the American alligator, bald eagle and pelican, but unlike these species wolves face the constant threat of hunters, farmers and developers.
After the announcement was made, many environmentalists and conservation groups announced their intent to sue the agency as they didn’t take into consideration key factors that continue to limit the wolf population, despite having accomplished some recovery goals.
Illegal hunting is the wolf’s biggest threat.
Several months after the decision to revoke endangered species protections from gray wolves, a study conducted by the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin in April of 2021 reported a 27% to 33% decrease in the wolf population — roughly ⅓ of the total wolf population in Wisconsin. Compared to the previous year — where 1,034 wolves were present — the population in 2021 resided at between 695 to 751 wolves.
Using research collected between April 2017-2020 of wolves killed by hunters, Nelson researchers also predicted 98 to 105 wolves in Wisconsin have died since the Trump Administration’s removal of protections — hunters accounting for a large chunk of the population decrease.
Many state populations like Montana and areas near Yellowstone Park are facing the biggest threat of illegal hunting.
In May of 2021, Montana passed several new wolf hunting and trapping laws that loosened wolf hunting in the state. The bills allowed hunters to kill an unlimited amount of wolves, hunt at night, set traps, expanded the hunting season by 30 days and allowed hound hunting of black bears.
Wolf hunting season in Montana now lasts from Sept.15, 2021 to March 15, 2022 — extending the season an extra month.
Since the start of Montana’s wolf hunting season in September 2021, 212 wolves have already been killed by hunters, three members of the most viewed pack in the world being killed in the first week of the hunting season at Yellowstone Park.
Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone Park in 1995, after being wiped clean by hunters in the 1920s. Now with the majority of Montana killings happening in Yellowstone, reintroduction of the species may have to occur yet again. As of recently, over 20 wolves have been killed in Yellowstone, causing an outcry from conservation groups and tourists for agencies to take protective measures.
Now only 94 wolves remain in the park, numbers which can be expected to drastically decrease.
Similar to Montana, Idaho also has weak hunting laws that do not protect the species, if anything they encourage hunting in the state — opposition to the wolf population being strong in Idaho from ranchers and farmers. Idaho State Senator Van Burtenshaw even mentioned part of the loose restrictions was to minimize the wolf population.
“There’s a wave of wolves coming in, and we just want to slow that wave down, minimize our costs and bring back the ranching family,” said Burtenshaw.
In Idaho, hunters have an excessive amount of hunting capabilities. Hunters can use packs of dogs to hunt down wolves and shoot wolf pups in their dens. The state also offers what could be considered a bounty of $2,500 to hunters who kill wolves in order to “reimburse” them for costs.
With the new court ruling, many protections for gray wolves are being restored back to normal before the Trump Administration revoked them.
Specifically in Wisconsin, the ruling put wolf hunting to an end — a state in which roughly 200 wolves were killed over the first 4 days of hunting season last year.
Environmentalists toasted to the news, celebration being in order for those states that are protected — yet many environmentalists pointed out several key states were excluded from the ruling. Hunting hotspots such as Montana, Idaho and Wymonig are excluded, remaining a serious threat to the wolf population.
James Rappaport Clark, president and chief executive of Defenders of Wildlife, one of the organizations that sued the Interior Department over the Trump policy, said in a statement that without laws protecting wolves in these key states, the issue still remains a big problem.
“While we’re certainly thrilled about the court ruling, we’re not done, because hunting in the northern Rockies remains a huge part of the problem,” Clark said.
Clark also called on the Biden Administration to take action and protect the wolf population. As more species become endangered due to man-made threats, it is crucial for agencies and the Biden Administration to take further steps to protect wildlife — passing regulations with only half of the protection will continue to result in half of the recovery results, animals deserve full and maximum effort.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com contributors are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — Featured Photo: Wolf running in the snow on April 20, 2010. Source: pike Jo, Flickr.