U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delists gray wolf

By Laura Bies

Gray wolves through the contiguous U.S. will soon be removed from the list of endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. Credit: MacNeil Lyons/National Park Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has removed gray wolves (Canis lupus) in the contiguous United States from the Endangered Species Act.

First listed under the ESA in the 1970’s, the gray wolf’s number have increased throughout the lower 48 states in recent decades. The delisting was proposed in March 2019 and will take effect on Jan. 2.

According to the USFWS, there are now more than 6,000 gray wolves across the contiguous U.S., mostly in two large, genetically diverse, stable to growing populations — one in the Northern Rocky Mountains and another in the Western Great Lakes. The wolf population in the Great Lakes area of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin has grown to about 4,500 individuals. The Northern Rockies population includes more than 1,500 wolves across Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, Utah and California, with some evidence of wolves moving into Colorado.

The USFWS stated that its delisting decision is based on the best scientific and commercial data available, including “a thorough analysis of threats and how they have been alleviated and the ongoing commitment and proven track record of states and tribes to continue managing for healthy wolf populations once delisted.” The agency determined that the species has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery. The USFWS will continue to monitor wolves for the next five years to ensure the continued success of the species.

The status of gray wolves under the ESA has been the subject of numerous lawsuits in recent years. In 2011, the USFWS delisted the Western Great Lakes population of gray wolves. That decision was challenged in court and reversed in 2014. An appeals court upheld that ruling in 2017.

In 2012, the USFWS delisted gray wolves in Wyoming in a decision that was challenged in court but ultimately upheld. Congress then removed wolves in the Northern Rockies from ESA protections through a rider attached to budget legislation in 2011.

Last week’s listing decision was also likely face legal challenges in the future.

The Wildlife Society released a statement last week regarding the decision by the Service, highlighting that wildlife professionals will continue to apply science to policy and management decisions regarding gray wolves as they transition from federal endangered species status. The Society’s issue statement on wolf restoration and management in the contiguous United States supports appropriate delisting of the species and recognizes that efficient and effective conservation and management of wolves may be better achieved through state and tribal wildlife agencies. State, provincial and tribal fish and wildlife agencies are the responsible authorities for conserving and managing recovered wolf populations in their respective jurisdictions and TWS encourages those agencies to use sound science in designing and implementing wolf management programs.

This delisting decision does not affect Mexican wolves (Canis lupus baileyi) or red wolves (Canis rufus), both of which remain endangered under the ESA.

Read TWS’ Position Statements on The U.S. Endangered Species Act and Wolf Restoration and Management in the Contiguous United States

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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