Gray wolves will regain federal protection in most of the lower 48 U.S. states following a court ruling on Thursday that overturned a Trump administration decision to remove the animals from the endangered species list.
Senior District Judge Jeffrey S. White of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California found that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, in declaring wolf conservation a success and withdrawing the species from federal protection, had not sufficiently considered the threats to wolves outside of the Great Lakes and the northern Rocky Mountains where they rebounded most significantly.
Although the decision to remove Wolves from the list was made under the Trump administration, the Biden administration has defended it in court.
“Wolves need federal protection, period,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney at Earthjustice, an environmental law nonprofit that has helped lead the legal fight. “The Fish and Wildlife Service should be ashamed of defending gray wolf delisting.”
A Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman said the agency is reviewing the decision.
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The Trump administration’s decision to delist came despite concerns from some of the scientists who conducted the independent review required before the Fish and Wildlife Service can remove a species from federal protection.
The ruling applies in 44 of the lower 48 states. Wolves in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho will remain unprotected as they were delisted by Congress in 2011. Wolves in New Mexico, which are considered a separate population, have never lost their protection.
After gray wolves were removed from the endangered species list, wolf hunting increased sharply in some states, including Wisconsin. In the spring of 2021, the state had to end its wolf hunting season early, after more than 200 wolves were killed in less than 60 hours, far exceeding the state’s quota of 119. The Ojibwe tribes were furious, having decided not to fulfill their tribe quota because wolves hold a sacred place in their culture.
Deb Haaland, the Home Secretary, released a essay in USA Today this week, expressing concern over threats to wolves. She said she was alarmed by reports from Montana, where nearly 20 wolves have been killed this season after leaving the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. The Fish and Wildlife Service, she wrote, was evaluating whether it would be necessary to re-list wolves in the Northern Rockies.
Wolves were among the first animals protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the decision has been politically charged ever since. Large predators have long been controversial in western states, where ranchers complain of livestock loss.
Hunter Nation, an advocacy group that filed a brief in the case, criticized the ruling. “We are disappointed that an activist judge in California has decided to tell farmers, ranchers and all those who support a balanced ecosystem with common sense predator management that he knows better than they do,” said Luke. Hilgemann, Group Chairman and CEO. .
Judge White was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002.
Before the arrival of Europeans, gray wolves thrived from coast to coast in North America, living in forests, grasslands, mountains and wetlands. But two centuries of eradication campaigns have nearly wiped them out of the lower 48 states. By the mid-20th century, perhaps 1,000 remained south of the Canadian border, mostly in northern Minnesota.
Their numbers began to rebound after the species was placed under federal protection in the 1960s. In the mid-1990s, the Fish and Wildlife Service embarked on a new chapter in wolf conservation, moving 31 Canadian wolves in Yellowstone National Park. Their numbers grew rapidly, and in 2020 there were about 6,000 wolves roaming the western Great Lakes and the northern Rocky Mountains, with small numbers spreading into Oregon, Washington and California.
The United States is also home to the red wolf, a species listed as endangered. Its historic range included North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.