The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) expects to publish by the end of 2018 a proposal to remove endangered species protection from nearly all gray wolves in the lower 48. To stop this delisting, the Center for Biological Diversity has sued the FWS and Secretary of the Interior Zinke for violating the Endangered Species Act by never providing a comprehensive recovery plan for gray wolves nationwide. The Center’s lawsuit argues that wolves must remain federally protected until the FWS implements a national recovery plan.
A recovery plan, writes the Center, would enable wolves to establish viable numbers in areas where small populations are still recovering, including California, Oregon, and Washington. It would also promote recovery in areas like the southern Rockies, Dakotas, and Adirondacks, which have suitable wolf habitat but no wolf populations.
In their complaint, the Center charges that the FWS has never prepared the required nationwide plan to guide gray wolf recovery efforts and has unreasonably denied a 2010 petition the Center filed to ask for development of that recovery plan. The agency has also failed to review the status of the gray wolf in the last five years, even though the ESA requires them to do so.
The Center wants the court to order FWS to develop a nationwide recovery plan and conduct a five-year status review for the gray wolf.
This may be a long fight. While the delisting proposal is expected in December, wolves will remain protected until the FWS proposal is finalized. That could take a year or so. The Center has filed the complaint and now awaits the FWS response. The Center expects a decision on this issue about a year from now.
In their complaint, the Center includes a number of important facts about wolves and the treatment of these essential predators:
- The gray wolf once occupied the majority of North America, excluding perhaps only the driest deserts and the southeastern U.S. where the red wolf roamed. Scientists estimate that as many as two million wolves may have lived in North America pre-European settlement.
- Wolves are important to the ecosystems they inhabit. Studies of gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere demonstrate that wolves significantly shape ecosystems, promoting biodiversity and overall ecological health.
- Government agents used deadly poisons and traps to kill wolves during the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century. By 1967, when wolves were first federally protected under a precursor to the ESA, they had been reduced to fewer than 1,000 wolves in northeastern Minnesota, with a very small isolated population on Isle Royale.
- Rather than develop a nationwide gray wolf recovery plan, the FWS developed separate plans for wolves in three areas: the Northern Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes, and the Southwest. The FWS never developed recovery plans for many areas where wolves could and should recover, including the Northeast, Pacific Northwest and California, Southern Rocky Mountains, and Great Plains.
- Today, wolves occupy only about ten percent of their historic range in the U.S. with most progress in those three areas covered by recovery plans. Their total population is less than 6,000 wolves. While this represents an improvement in the status of the gray wolf since its protection, threats remain inadequately addressed in both occupied and unoccupied portions of the range.
- Because recovery efforts have focused on just three regions and not on gray wolves throughout the lower 48, full recovery has not occurred.
What You Can Do:
Read or listen to my post on developing a national wolf recovery plan.
Read the complaint filed by the Center for Biological Diversity.
Support the Center for Biological Diversity.
Rick Lamplugh lives in Gardiner, Montana, and writes to protect wildlife and preserve wild lands. His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves and the award-winning sequel, Deep into Yellowstone, are available signed from Rick or unsigned on Amazon.
Rick's new book, The Wilds of Aging, is the prequel to In the Temple of Wolves and is available signed or on Amazon.
Wolf photo by Wisconsin DNR
Wolf recovery map by Center for Biological Diversity