In 1973, Congress passed, and President Nixon signed into law, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to protect certain species of plants and animals that were at risk of extinction. It dealt not only with the species themselves but also protected their habitat. Since that time there have been numerous attempts to weaken those protections to benefit commercial interests. This has been done through legislation in Congress and through rule-making by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Some of those efforts have been successful and others not.
Gray wolves were listed as endangered under the ESA in 1975 after they were hunted, trapped and poisoned almost to extinction in the 48 contiguous states. Currently, there are approximately 6,000 wolves living in the Western Great Lakes, Northern Rockies and portions of Washington, Oregon and California.
The historic wolf population is estimated to have been between 1 and 2 million individuals existing in most of the northern states. Now, with just a small fraction of their population living in only 10 percent of their historic range, they are far from being recovered.
Recently, David Bernhardt, acting secretary of Interior, made an announcement at a meeting of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference that the USFW will adopt a rule to de-list gray wolves from the ESA. Bernhardt, like many of the members of the Trump administration, has a long history as a lobbyist. His specialty has been serving the financial interests of oil, gas, mining and chemical companies.
Even though this administration is overtly hostile to the ESA, they are not the first to try to de-list wolves. In fact, wolves were de-listed in Montana, Idaho and portions of Oregon, Utah and Washington in 2011 in a bill sponsored by Senator Jon Tester (D, Montana) and Senator Mike Simpson (R, Idaho) and signed by President Obama. The “management” of these wolves was then turned over to those states and approximately 3,500 wolves have been killed since then.
A proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on March 15. There will then be a 60-day comment period for interested persons to have their voices heard about this proposal. After that: (1) the rule could become effective; (2) the rule could be modified based upon the public comments or; (3) the rule could be withdrawn. If becomes effective, it will be immediately challenged in the courts by numerous environmental and wildlife group.
This isn’t the first attempt by USFWS to remove ESA protections from the wolves. There were several efforts during both the Bush and Obama administrations, and they were overturned in the federal courts. The courts ruled that the USFWS had not followed the law in their de-listing and must rescind the rules. In the mandated Independent Peer Review of the 2013 de-listing rule, a five-member panel of scientists agreed unanimously that USFWS’s proposal was scientifically unsound.
Now is the time to stand up for the protection of our wolves for this is only the beginning of the efforts to undermine the ESA and put all of our wildlife at risk. We must let the USFW know that we will not support this misguided policy to push the wolf population back to the brink of extinction.