WASHINGTON— A coalition of wildlife conservation groups today notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of its intent to file a lawsuit challenging the recent decision to strip gray wolves of Endangered Species Act protection across nearly all the lower 48 states.
The challenged delisting rule, which becomes effective Jan. 4, will permit trophy hunting and trapping of wolves again in the Great Lakes states. Delisting will slow or completely halt recovery of wolves in most of their former range. The new rule excludes Mexican gray wolves, which are listed separately under the Endangered Species Act.
“The Trump administration shut the door to wolf recovery, even as the science shows that wolves are too imperiled and ecologically important to abandon,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re taking the fight to the courts, and I’m confident we can restore the Endangered Species Act’s lifesaving protections for gray wolves across the nation.”
“The decision to remove critical protections for still-recovering gray wolves is dangerously short-sighted, especially in the face of an extinction and biodiversity crisis,” said Bonnie Rice, senior representative for Sierra Club's Our Wild America Campaign. “We should be putting more effort into coexistence with wolves and reinstating endangered species protections critical for their full recovery.”
Today’s notice letter states that removal of the gray wolf’s federal protection is unlawful because the species has not recovered in the Pacific Northwest, the southern Rockies and elsewhere that scientists identify as “significant” habitat for the wolf.
The notice letter also asserts that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision contradicts the most current science regarding wolf conservation and taxonomy and ignores concerns raised in peer reviews by the nation’s top wolf scientists.
“It’s perverse to declare wolves fully recovered when they exist in only a fraction of their historic range,” said Adkins. “I’m hopeful that the court will set things right, but in the meantime hundreds of wolves will die, and it will take years to undo the damage done. It’s heartbreaking and senseless.”
Six conservation groups represented by Earthjustice — the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Oregon Wild, National Parks Conservation Association and the Humane Society of the United States — sent today’s notice letter.
The Endangered Species Act requires that the coalition now wait 60 days before filing its lawsuit with the court.
Congress stripped wolves in Idaho and Montana of protections in 2011, and the Fish and Wildlife Service removed protection from Wyoming wolves in 2017. This led to the killing of thousands of wolves and halted further recovery in those northern Rocky Mountain states.
The agency also removed protection from gray wolves in the Great Lakes region in 2011, allowing trophy hunting and trapping seasons in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, but the courts restored protection there in 2014.
Unlike the previous rules, the most recent delisting rule removes protection from all gray wolves in the lower 48, except for Mexican gray wolves. It was published in the Federal Register on Nov. 3 and becomes effective 60 days later.