Not even one month after the Biden administration filed in favor of a previous U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) decision delisting all wolves in the Lower 48, the USFWS is reviewing the status of the wolf population in the western part of the United States in response to petitions filed by a handful of environmental groups with a history of filing lawsuits related to wolves.
Specifically, the groups want to list the gray wolf Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population Segment (DPS), or a new U.S. DPS, as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act because Idaho and Montana expanded wolf hunt quotas. The minimum estimated wolf population in Idaho is currently 1,500, or 900 percent above minimum recovery goals, while there are about 1,200 wolves in Montana, or 600 percent above recovery goals.
The first petition proposes listing a Northern Rocky Mountain DPS consisting of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, the eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon, and a small portion of north-central Utah. Both petitions also propose some alternative Western U.S. DPS to include all, or part, of the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS states with the addition of California, Colorado, Nevada, and in one petition, northern Arizona.
According to a USFWS news release, “The Service finds the petitioners present substantial information that potential increases in human-caused mortality may pose a threat to the gray wolf in the western U.S. The Service also finds that new regulatory mechanisms in Idaho and Montana may be inadequate to address this threat. Therefore, the Service finds that gray wolves in the western U.S. may warrant listing.”
Returning wolves to protected status would seem to run counter to Congress after it mandated delisting in 2011 on a bipartisan basis. That law basically states the USFWS rule to delist wolves could not be reviewed in court. Even though that rule still stands, it does not prevent a new rule from being implemented if it is determined that conditions changed. The latest environmental-driven petitions claim conditions have changed because of new regulatory schemes in Idaho and Montana. UFWS is now considering whether a new rule is warranted.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation maintains that state agencies should manage wolves just as they manage elk, bears, deer, mountain lions and other wildlife species. RMEF and its partners filed a legal brief in favor of wolf delisting earlier in September.
(Photo source: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)