The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced its intent to remove the status of gray wolves as endangered species on a national scale by the end of 2020. Last year, the agency proposed lifting the endangered status of gray wolves in the Lower 48 states and, after considering comments from the Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation and others, FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith has indicated that they will likely move forward with delisting.
The Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation (SAF) has sought delisting of recovered wolves for many years by participating in litigation to defend FWS wolf delisting decisions, and through petitions and comments to the agency. As always, the key is to successfully defend in the courts any decision to delist wolves. This is not easy; for years SAF has participated in case after case when it comes to delisting distinct populations of wolves. However, we are now inching toward a delisting decision that will be backed by the courts.
“Animal-rights groups such as the Humane Society of the United States have repeatedly hamstrung the FWS by filing lawsuits that undermine wildlife management efforts nationwide for all species,” said Bruce Tague vice president of government affairs for Sportsmen’s Alliance. “We know these are difficult cases, because judges hesitate to support FWS delisting, but science and science alone should be the driving force when making delisting decisions, not emotion and bottomless pocketed special interests.”
From 2014 to 2017, SAF participated in landmark litigation to remove wolves in the Western Great Lakes area from their protected status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) based upon the fact that their recovery numbers far exceeded the threshold for delisting.
Even though there was overwhelming evidence that their numbers not only recovered, but that the population was thriving, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) sued to block the delisting. The battle that ensued was over one major issue: can the FWS delist segmented populations of wolves after that distinct population recovers, or must every population recover before they can delist the species?
SAF argued that FWS could, and should, be allowed to use this scientific management tool, while HSUS and others argued that only when the entire population has recovered nationwide could they be removed from the ESA.
After years of battling in the courts, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with SAF that FWS has the authority to delist a species in regions where it has recovered, such as the Western Great Lakes, even if the species has not recovered elsewhere. Unfortunately, the court vacated the delisting and sent the matter back to FWS to make additional findings before delisting the Western Great Lakes wolves. FWS is now not only prepared to delist those wolves once again, but all gray wolves in the lower 48, with the exception of small populations of subspecies such as Mexican wolves in the Southwest and red wolves in North Carolina. Individual state protections will vary; from carefully regulated hunting seasons to protection under state endangered species acts.
“We’re working hard to have this done by the end of the year, and I’d say it’s very imminent,” FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “We just want to be sure we’re covering all the bases. When groups want to come in and sue because of such a success, it takes away resources from species that need them.”
About the Sportsmen’s Alliance: The Sportsmen’s Alliance protects and defends America’s wildlife conservation programs and the pursuits – hunting, fishing and trapping – that generate the money to pay for them. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation is responsible for public education, legal defense and research. Its mission is accomplished through several distinct programs coordinated to provide the most complete defense capability possible. Stay connected to Sportsmen’s Alliance: Online, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.