Feds say species is recovered; wildlife advocates claim decision violates the Endangered Species Act
By Bob Berwyn
According to the agency, the biological goals of the recovery have been met, and Wyoming has committed to maintaining 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs in the state to maintain a healthy population.
But that number is not adequate for the long-term preservation of the species, according to conservation advocates, who say it’s like managing wolves on the knife-edge of extirpation.
Wyoming’s wolf managment plan is far from fulfilling Endangered Species Act requirements for adequate regulatory mechanisms to maintain species.
“They are incredibly weak, at best,” said Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine, explaining that the state law allows wolves to be shot on sight as unwanted predators across 85 percent of the state.
“It’s unprecedented from a species to go from full ESA protection to being designated as a predator, essentially as vermin,” Harbine said. “It’s not just the predator status that we’re concerned about. The Wyoming law allows people to kill wolves they feel are harassing wildlfie,” she said.
Federal officials, meanwhile, touted the overall success of the wolf recovery program.
“The return of the wolf to the Northern Rocky Mountains is a major success story, and reflects the remarkable work of States, Tribes, and our many partners to bring this iconic species back from the brink of extinction,” Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe said in the official press release. “The wolf population has remained healthy under state management in Idaho and Montana, and we’re confident that the Wyoming population will sustain its recovery under the management plan Wyoming will implement.”
The Service will continue to monitor the delisted wolf populations in all three states for a minimum of five years to ensure that they continue to sustain their recovery, and retains authority to reinstate ESA protections at any time if circumstances warrant.
Wildife conservation advocates say the decision violates the Endangered Species Act and that they will continue to challenge the federal decision.
“With today’s delisting decision, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is authorizing an open season on wolves across 85 percent of the state of Wyoming and leaving wolves elsewhere in Wyoming without an adequate legal safety net,” Harbine said.
“The Endangered Species Act exists to protect America’s wildlife, including wolves. Handing management authority for wolves to a state with such openly hostile wolf management policies violates the Endangered Species Act. Citizens and groups across the country that support America’s wildlife will oppose this abuse of the Endangered Species Act.”
Wyoming’s wolf population is estimated to be only 328 wolves, far fewer than either Idaho or Montana. Wyoming’s anti-wolf policies could dramatically reduce that number, Harbine said.
The USFWS expects the Greater Yellowstone Area wolf population to maintain a long-term average of around 300 wolves, while the entire Northern Rocky Mountains Distinct Population Segment is expected to achieve a long-term average of around 1,000 wolves. These wolves represent a 400-mile southern range extension of a vast contiguous wolf population that numbers over 12,000 wolves in western Canada and about 65,000 wolves across all of Canada and Alaska.
Harbine said it’s not accurate to refer to the Wyoming and Yellowstone populations in the context of the greater wolf population extending into Canada.
“The USFWS has said repeatedly – Yellowstone area wolves are among the most isolated sub-populations,” she said.
The suggestion that the Wyoming population could somehow be boosted by interactions with the greater wolf population may be misleading, she concluded.
This story will be updated.