House passes legislation to delist gray wolves

By Laura Bies

Recent legislation would delist gray wolves across the Lower 48 if approved by the Senate and signed into law. ©USFWS

The House of Representatives narrowly passed the Manage our Wolves Act, H.R. 6784, which would remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) in the contiguous 48 states from the endangered species list. The bill would enforce and protect from judicial review previous U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decisions to delist the wolves in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes area.

The bill requires the Service to delist the gray wolves across the contiguous United States by the end of fiscal year 2019. That decision would be protected from judicial review. The bill does not affect the status of Mexican wolves in the Southwest.

Gray wolves in the Lower 48 have been listed under federal endangered species laws since the 1960s. At that time wolves had been extirpated, except for small populations in Michigan and Minnesota. Since then, populations in the Great Lakes area have grown to about 4,500 and spread into neighboring Wisconsin. In the Northern Rockies, natural migration from Canada and reintroductions in Yellowstone National Park have led to a current population of more than 1,500 wolves across Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, Utah and California.

The USFWS has repeatedly attempted to delist gray wolves in the past several years due to recovery of the species, citing populations that had exceeded recovery targets by up to 300 percent. Federal courts have rescinded those delisting attempts nine different times. Only gray wolves in the Northern Rockies have been successfully delisted — in Montana and Idaho through a rider attached to budget legislation in 2011 and in Wyoming by the Service last year. Wolves across the rest of the contiguous U.S. are currently listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Just days before the legislation passed the House, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the USFWS, asserting that the Service violated the ESA by never developing a recovery plan for wolves. The organization is asking the court to ensure that wolves remain listed until a recovery plan is prepared. It had previously petitioned USFWS to prepare a recovery plan, but that petition was denied.

A bill similar to H.R. 6784 was introduced in the Senate in January and referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has not taken any action on it.  The bill must be passed by the Senate and signed into law by the president before it will affect the status of gray wolves.

Read  TWS’ fact sheet on gray wolf management in the contiguous U.S.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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