WASHINGTON – Today, the Trump administration’s decision to prematurely strip gray wolves of federal Endangered Species Act protections takes effect. The decision, first announced on October 29, 2020, applies to all gray wolves in the lower 48 states despite the lack of scientific evidence showing true recovery across gray wolves’ historic range. Starting today, management of wolf populations will return to individual state wildlife agencies, some of which are already reinstating hunting and trapping season on wolves.
“Tragically, we know how this will play out when states ‘manage’ wolves, as we have seen in the northern Rocky Mountain region in which they were previously delisted,” stated Samantha Bruegger, wildlife coexistence campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “In Idaho, nearly 600 wolves were brutally killed in a one-year span from 2019-2020, including dozens of wolf pups. Last year in Washington, the state slaughtered an entire pack of wolves due to supposed conflicts with ranching interests. Without federal protections, wolves are vulnerable to the whims and politics of state management.”
According to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), there are only 108 wolves in Washington state, 158 in Oregon, and a scant 15 in California. Nevada, Utah, and Colorado have had a few wolf sightings over the past three years, but wolves remain functionally extinct in these states. These meager numbers lay the groundwork for a legal challenge planned by WildEarth Guardians with a coalition of conservation groups to be filed later this month.
“The delisting of gray wolves is the latest causality of the Trump administration’s willful ignorance of the biodiversity crisis and scientific facts,” said Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians. “Even with Trump’s days in office dwindling, the long-term impact of illegitimate decisions like the wolf delisting will take years to correct. Guardians is committed to challenging this decision in court, while working across political channels to ensure wolves receive as much protection as possible at the state level in the interim.”
In delisting wolves, USFWS ignores the science showing they are not recovered in the West. The USFWS concluded that because in its belief there are sufficient wolves in the Great Lakes states, it does not matter that wolves in the West are not yet recovered. The ESA demands more, including restoring the species in the ample suitable habitats afforded by the wild public lands throughout the West. Wolves only occupy a small portion of available, suitable habitat in Oregon and Washington, and remain absent across vast swaths of their historical habitat in the West, including in Colorado and the southern Rockies.
BACKGROUND: The state of Idaho offers a perfect example of what state “management” of wolves may look like across the American West. According to an analysis of records obtained by Western Watersheds Project, hunters, trappers, and state and federal agencies killed 570 wolves in Idaho during a 12-month period from July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020. Included in the mortality are at least 35 wolf pups, some weighing less than 16 pounds and likely only 4 to 6 weeks old. Some of the wolves shattered teeth trying to bite their way out of traps, others died of hyperthermia in traps set by the U.S.D.A. Wildlife Services, and more were gunned down in aerial control actions. The total mortality during this period represented nearly 60 percent of the 2019 year-end estimated Idaho wolf population.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) recently announced it had awarded approximately $21,000 in “challenge grants” to the north Idaho-based Foundation 4 Wildlife Management, which reimburses wolf trappers a bounty up to $1,000 per wolf killed. The Foundation also has received funding for wolf bounties from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. A single individual may now kill up to 30 wolves under IDFG hunting and trapping rules—a new increase from the 20 wolves previously allowed.