WASHINGTON— Following the conclusion of last week’s White House Tribal Nations Summit, more than 60 conservation groups today called for the Biden administration to immediately relist the gray wolf and engage with Tribal nations on wolf management and protection.
During the summit, President Biden announced important new steps his administration is taking to better recognize Tribal sovereignty and protect the rights of Indigenous communities, including formally committing the Department of the Interior and 16 other agencies to protecting Tribal treaty rights in agency policymaking and regulatory processes.
Notably, the Biden administration released a memorandum of understanding on Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge, or ITEK, and federal decision making. The memorandum highlights a commitment to “ensuring that Federal agencies conduct regular, meaningful, and robust consultation with Tribal officials in the development of federal research, policies, and decisions, especially decisions that may affect Tribal Nations and the people they represent.”
Additionally, the memorandum acknowledges ITEK as “an important body of knowledge that contributes to the advancements of the United States and to our collective understanding of the natural world.”
Authored by the Global Indigenous Council in 2019, “The Wolf: A Treaty of Cultural and Environmental Survival” embodies ITEK. More than 700 Tribes and First Nations in the United States and Canada have signed the treaty and are calling for government-to-government consultation on gray wolf management.
Under the Trump administration, despite overwhelming Tribal and public opposition, endangered species protections were removed for gray wolves across the lower 48 states, resulting in the slaughter of 218 wolves in 60 hours in Wisconsin. And Montana and Idaho, where wolves were legislatively delisted in 2011, have recently enacted regulations allowing the killing of 85% and 90% of those states’ wolf populations, respectively.
Recently, a Tribal delegation met with Interior officials to explain the dire situation that gray wolves are facing and directly called for meaningful consultation, as well as prior and informed consent. These are required by previous executive orders and U.N. declarations. The delegation also called for the immediate relisting of gray wolves while consultation takes place.
“We look to the Biden administration to expeditiously honor its commitments to meaningful consultation with Tribal Nations. Time is of the essence for the gray wolf because of extreme state management policies currently in motion that aim to decimate wolf populations. The direct observations, oral and written knowledge, practices and beliefs of tribal nations in relation to wolves have evolved over millennia, and must be fully considered in any decisions on gray wolf management,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “In the meantime, endangered species protections must be restored for gray wolves so that decades of recovery efforts are not lost this fall during unethical wolf hunting and trapping seasons in multiple states.”
“Failing to act swiftly would continue this country’s appalling treatment of Tribal Nations and wolves,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “In the face of an ongoing wolf slaughter under new state management policies, the Biden administration must immediately restore Endangered Species Act protections to wolves and start the Tribal consultation that should have occurred from the beginning.”
“We are hopeful that these new commitments by the Biden administration will translate to real engagement with Indigenous communities on the recovery, protection, and long-term management of wolves and other species,” said Louie Psihoyos, executive director of Oceanic Preservation Society and Academy Award-winning director of Racing Extinction. “The MOU on ITEK and other commitments to strengthen tribal consultations must mean more than lip service, and we are seeking real action.”
“We are heartened by the Biden administration’s recent action re-upping its commitment to meaningful consultation with Tribal Nations and to centering Traditional Ecological Knowledge in its decision making,” said Bonnie Rice, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club. “The cultural significance of the gray wolf to Indigenous peoples means that their voices must be heard regarding protection and management of wolves, and their calls for immediate restoration of endangered species protections heeded.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced the agency is undertaking a formal status review of gray wolf populations in the western United States in response to a citizen petition filed under the Endangered Species Act. Recognizing the profound threats to wolves posed by hostile state management policies, the Service noted that the petition provided “credible and substantial information that increased human-caused mortality in Idaho and Montana may pose a threat to wolves” across the western United States.