Wolf Protection To Be Lifted For Almost All Wolves In Lower 48 States, Feds Announce

Wolf protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) should end because the gray wolf has been brought back successfully from the brink of extinction. The US Fish Wildlife Service (FWS) published the somewhat controversial announcement about the gray wolf on Friday. As a result of its recovery, they propose to remove it from the Endangered Species list.

According to the FWS, the gray wolf species recovery effort has been so successful that it has exceeded its population targets in some areas by as much as 300 percent.

When the gray wolf was added to the endangered species list for the lower 48 states in 1974, there was only a tiny population remaining in Minnesota. Now there are over 6,000 of the animals in the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies region.

As a result, the FWS considers the federal effort complete. They want to turn the job of wolf management over to state and local authorities so that they can concentrate on the population that is still endangered — the vanishing Mexican wolf, Canis lupus baileyi. There are only about 75 remaining Mexican wolves in the United States.

They are now offering a 90-day comment period on the federal proposal to end protection for most gray wolves.

Considering the widespread celebration that met the delisting of the Bald Eagle and the Peregrine Falcon, the reaction to the proposal to delist the gray wolf is decidedly muted.

The problem, I think, is that anybody who gets out in the field and has eyes in their head can see for themselves that the Bald Eagle (2007) and the Peregrine Falcon (1999) recovery efforts were an amazing success. If you get out there and you know where to look, you’re going to find a Bald Eagle.

The gray wolf is quite another story. They clearly haven’t moved back into all of their historical territory, but the FWS said that it’s unrealistic to expect that they can.

“Does the wolf have to occupy all the habitat that is available to it in order for it to be recovered? Our answer to that question is no,” FWS park director Dan Ashe told the Associated Press.

However, Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), an endangered species advocacy group, thinks that the current population of the gray wolf is still too small and too fragile to warrant removing federal protection.

According to the CBD, gray wolves still only inhabit five percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states. Noah Greenwald, the endangered species representative director for the group, said:

“This is like kicking a patient out of the hospital when they’re still attached to life support. Wolves cling to a sliver of their historic habitat in the lower 48, and now the Obama administration wants to arbitrarily declare victory and move on.”

Greenwald and others have also pointed out that ranchers are often given permission to kill wolves by the states when federal protection is removed. In the northern Rocky Mountains region where full protection has already been lifted, CBD said that 1,100 have been killed — which is a scarily large percentage of the total wolf population.

What are your thoughts on the proposal to lift the Endangered Species Act federal wolf protections?

[wolves photo by A.J. Gagnan via Shutterstock]