by Jessica Corbett / Common Dreams
While celebrating a U.S. judge’s Thursday decision to restore federal protections that the Trump administration had stripped from the gray wolf, wildlife advocates and experts also demanded action to save wolves that won’t be protected by the legal triumph.
Calling the ruling “a significant victory for gray wolves and for all those who value nature and the public’s role in protecting these amazing creatures,” Defenders of Wildlife CEO and president Jamie Rappaport Clark said the restoration “means that these vitally important animals will receive the necessary support to recover and thrive in the years ahead.”
Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, similarly declared that “this is a huge win for gray wolves and the many people across the country who care so deeply about them.”
“I’m relieved that the court set things right but saddened that hundreds of wolves suffered and died under this illegal delisting rule,” she said, warning that “it will take years to undo the damage done to wolf populations.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the animal from the Endangered Species Act in January 2021, during the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency and several years after federal protections were removed from gray wolves in the northern Rockies.
Western Environmental Law Center attorney Kelly Nokes explained that “the science is clear that gray wolves have not yet recovered in the western U.S.” and “by design, the Endangered Species Act does not provide the federal government the discretion to forsake western wolf recovery in some regions due to progress in other parts of the country.”
California-based U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White reversed the Trump-era rule, writing that it “relies on the recovery of core metapopulations of wolves in the Great Lakes and northern Rocky Mountains to conclude that wolves across the entire lower 48 states no longer qualify for federal protection.”
“However, similar to its previous rulemaking, the service did not adequately consider threats to wolves outside of these core populations,” White continued. “Instead, the service avoids analyzing these wolves by concluding, with little explanation or analysis, that wolves outside of the core populations are not necessary to the recovery of the species.”
Adkins expressed hope that the ruling “finally convinces the Fish and Wildlife Service to abandon its longstanding, misguided efforts to remove federal wolf protections” and urged the agency to “work instead to restore these ecologically important top carnivores to places like the southern Rockies and northeastern United States.”
The judge’s decision is a boon to wolves “in states like California, Oregon, and Utah, where they have yet to achieve stable, robust populations,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director with Western Watersheds Project.
“We are relieved to have staved off premature delisting with this case,” he continued, “but there is still a huge amount of work ahead to protect wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, where they face some of their biggest threats.”
Lindsay Larris, Wildlife Program director at WildEarth Guardians, noted that “the nation has witnessed the brutality that happens when ‘management’ of wolves is returned to anti-wolf states like Montana and Idaho, which have implemented an aggressive eradication agenda.”
As the #RelistWolves Campaign outlined in a statement Thursday:
Wyoming allows a virtually unrestricted hunt. Montana has authorized hunters to slaughter up to 85% of wolves, and even permits baiting, trapping, and hunting on the border of Yellowstone National Park. And in Idaho, where the state is offering a bounty of up to $2,500 for each wolf killed, hunters may slaughter up to 90% of the state’s wolf population using unethical hunting practices such as snaring, chasing wolves down with ATVs, and shooting them from helicopters. These extreme hunts are devastating the wolf population in the Yellowstone region: Hunters have recently killed 119 wolves in Wyoming, 229 in Montana, and 452 in Idaho. In addition, 24 Yellowstone wolves have been slaughtered on the border of the park just this season alone.
Campaigners are calling for action from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, whose department is responsible for the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Restoring federal Endangered Species Act protections for wolves is essential to their recovery throughout their historic range,” said Larris, “so while we are thankful for this ruling we also call on Secretary Deb Haaland to issue emergency relisting protections for the northern Rockies wolf population to halt the senseless slaughter taking place.”
Also demanding action from the department, the #RelistWolves Campaign asserted that “it is unconscionable to see how the federal government continues to ignore the plight of wolves in the northern Rockies—including the greater Yellowstone area.”
“Wildlife does not know state boundaries,” the campaign said. “Under the current ruling, a wolf that’s protected when it’s in Oregon could be shot as soon as it wanders across the border into Idaho. A piecemeal relisting will not protect the species.”
Some activists also highlighted the importance of future collaboration. Cascadia Wildlands conservation director Bethany Cotton said that “we look forward to engaging with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure wolf management is guided by sound science, not prejudice.”
Emphasizing that “wolves are an integral part in the health and resilience of western ecosystems,” Adam Gebauer, Public Lands Program director at the Lands Council, said that “local land managers, state wildlife offices, and the federal government must work together and rely on science and not politics to ensure their recovery.”