Early last month, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) formally proposed removing Endangered Species Act protections from nearly all of the gray wolves in the country. Citing what they believed to be a job completed, the FWS announced that they intended to leave management of this historically-maligned species to the states. With so many populations still recovering, and individual wolves just now expanding their range into states where they’ve not been seen since the early twentieth century, this plan is tragically flawed.
The wolf aptly named “Journey” (or OR-7 to use the name that biologists gave him), was born in Oregon and traveled on a long solo trek that put him west of the Cascades and into California. This spectacular moment marked the first time that a wolf had entered California in nearly a century. And Journey wouldn’t have had that chance were it not for protections provided under the Endangered Species Act.
A wolf in the western Great Lakes region recently departed Minnesota and set off on his own expansion, traveling through Iowa and into Missouri. The wolf was promptly shot by a hunter who had mistaken it for a coyote. Tragic as that tale is, it shows that wolves are slowly trying to come back. In so doing, they’re demonstrating an amazing conservation success story.
So why walk away now? Wolves in the eastern United States, southern Rocky Mountains, and elsewhere are still recovering. Without the protections of the Endangered Species Act, states will be free to manage their populations in any way they see fit. We’ve seen several examples of state management in Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. With few exceptions, these states are all allowing for the killing of wolves to the maximum extent possible without triggering relisting under the act.
The job of bringing wolves back is both an awe-inspiring story of success, and a task not yet complete. Walking away now, as FWS has proposed to do, would imperil the resources and efforts extended to date to recover this iconic species.
The FWS is taking public comments on this proposal until the 11th of September. Please make your voice heard today.