Trump administration removes gray wolves from endangered species list, experts dub move 'premature and reckless'
The administration announced that gray wolves will not receive federal protection under the Endangered Species Act anymore, and that it is returning protection of these animals to states and tribes
Gray wolves are no longer considered an endangered species in the US. In a move that has sparked criticism, the administration of President Donald Trump announced that gray wolves will not receive federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) anymore, and that it is returning the management and protection of these animals to states and tribes “following successful recovery efforts”. The gray wolves were first listed under the ESA more than 45 years ago. The US Fish and Wildlife Service will now continue to monitor the species for five years.
“We, the US Fish and Wildlife Service have evaluated the classification status of the gray wolf (Canis lupus) entities currently listed in the lower 48 US and Mexico under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Based on our evaluation, we are removing the gray wolf entities in the lower 48 US and Mexico, except for the Mexican wolf that is currently on the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife,” said the notice. It added, “We are taking this action because the best available scientific and commercial data establish that the gray wolf entities in the lower 48 US do not meet the definitions of a threatened species or an endangered species under the Act.”
Since 2017, 13 species – and now the gray wolf – have been determined to not be either a threatened species or endangered species under the ESA’s List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, and another seven have been downlisted from endangered species to threatened species. “Today’s action reflects the Trump Administration’s continued commitment to species conservation based on the parameters of the law and the best scientific and commercial data available. After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery. 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,” said US Secretary of the Interior David L Bernhardt.
Once found across the US, the predators were mostly wiped out in the early 1900s due to hunting, trapping and poisoning programs. By 1967, there were fewer than 1,000 wolves in one small part of the Midwest. The US Fish and Wildlife Service subsequently placed gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act. Since being listed under the ESA, the gray wolf population in the lower 48 states is currently more than 6,000. This number, according to the administration, greatly exceeds the “combined recovery goals for the Northern Rocky Mountains and Western Great Lakes populations”.
The federal agency had proposed the removal of the species from ESA in March 2019, stating that they are “stable and healthy throughout its current range”. Over 100 scientists subsequently wrote a letter to Bernhardt in May 2019 objecting the proposal. The letter explained that the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposal “does not represent the best-available science pertaining to wolf conservation”. “Delisting wolves at this time would be an inappropriate shortcut and such intervention can seem like an expedited solution, but its larger effect is to inhibit progress on the broader issues of conservation and ESA implementation,” it argued.
According to Earthjustice, 1.8 million Americans also submitted comments last year opposing delisting. “Additionally, 86 members of Congress (in both the House and Senate), 230 businesses, and 367 veterinary professionals all submitted letters opposing the wolf delisting plan. Even the scientific peer reviews commissioned by the Fish and Wildlife Service itself found that the agency’s proposal ignored science and appeared to come to a predetermined conclusion, with inadequate scientific support,” it noted.
Decision slammed by conservation groups
Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice attorney, referred to the decision as “bad science”. “This is no ‘mission accomplished’ moment for wolf recovery. Wolves are only starting to get a toehold in places like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, and wolves need federal protection to explore habitat in the Southern Rockies and the Northeast. This delisting decision is what happens when bad science drives bad policy — and it’s illegal, so we will see them in court,” she said.
According to Danielle Moser, wildlife program coordinator for Oregon Wild, it was “far too premature” to declare wolves recovered and to strip protections from them in the Western two-thirds of Oregon. “Removing wolves from the endangered species list would turn their management entirely over to Oregon’s embattled Department of Fish and Wildlife, which continues to push for hunting and trapping of the state’s already fragile wolf population,” Moser emphasized.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO for Defenders of Wildlife, criticized the delisting as “premature and reckless”. “Gray wolves occupy only a fraction of their former range and need continued federal protection to fully recover. We will be taking the US Fish and Wildlife Service to court to defend this iconic species,” Clark added.
Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, argued that instead of pursuing wolf recovery, the Fish and Wildlife Service has adopted the “broadest, most destructive” delisting rule yet. “Again and again, the courts have rejected premature removal of wolf protections. The courts recognize, even if the feds don’t, that the Endangered Species Act requires real wolf recovery, including in the southern Rockies and other places with ideal wolf habitat,” stated Adkins.
Bart Melton, wildlife program director for the National Parks Conservation Association described the move as “short-sighted and dangerous to America’s conservation legacy.” “Rather than working alongside communities to support the return of wolves to parks and surrounding landscapes including Dinosaur National Monument, North Cascades, and Lassen National Forest, the administration essentially today said, ‘good enough’ and removed Endangered Species Act protections. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal ignores the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, science, and common sense,” he said.