Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 1, 2017

Contact:  Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495,

Great Lakes States Wolves Retain Endangered Species Protections

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Shirked Legal Requirements for Protecting Gray Wolves Across Range

WASHINGTON— The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has decided that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrongly removed Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves in the western Great Lakes states, a decision that protects more than 3,000 wolves and ensures hundreds there will not be killed each year.

In a unanimous decision, the court upheld a 2014 ruling by the Federal District Court that also concluded that the Fish and Wildlife Service had prematurely removed protections from wolves. 

The court held that the Service had put on "blinders" when it removed protections for wolves because the agency ignored what negative impacts this would have on recovery of wolves in other areas, such as New England and the Dakotas. The decision is at least the eighth time a federal court has ruled that the Service has wrongly ended protections for gray wolves.

"The second highest court in the nation reaffirmed that we must do much more to recover gray wolves before declaring the mission accomplished," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Wolves are still missing from more than 90 percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states, and both the Endangered Species Act and common sense tell us we can't ignore that loss."

In its ruling the appeals court said the Service does not have the power "to delist an already-protected species by balkanization." The agency "cannot circumvent the Endangered Species Act's explicit delisting standards by riving an existing listing into a recovered sub-group and a leftover group that becomes an orphan to the law." 

By designating a "distinct population segment" of wolves in the western Great Lakes region in 2011, the Service made this precise error, effectively turning wolves in other portions of the nation into legal orphans. In 2013 the Service used this "orphan" legal status to then propose removing protections for gray wolves in the rest of the country, including California, Oregon and Washington, where small populations are still recovering, as well as the southern Rockies and Adirondacks, where there is suitable wolf habitat but no wolves.

The Service used a similar approach this year with grizzly bears by designating a Greater Yellowstone distinct population segment and removing federal protections from bears within that region. In ending protections for grizzly bears in Yellowstone, the Service created a legal orphan status for grizzly bears outside the delisted area.

"Wolves and grizzlies are symbols of America's wild places. We're lucky the Endangered Species Act requires us to restore these magnificent animals and not declare victory when just one small population is stabilized," said Greenwald.

Since the 2014 District Court ruling, members of Congress including Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) have introduced multiple pieces of legislation, including riders on appropriations bills, to overturn the 2014 decision. Their legislation would have reinstated the 2011 delisting decision and curtailed all further judicial review by ordinary citizens.

"Senator Klobuchar's cynical legislation to end protections for wolves not only harms this amazing species but also undermines the fundamental right of every citizen to go to court and hold the government accountable under the law," said Greenwald. "Given Klobuchar's background as an attorney, she should know just how dangerous it is to slam the courthouse door on ordinary people."

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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