Today, acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced the Trump administration’s intent to remove endangered species protections for wolves in the lower 48 states. The administration will release the proposal to the public in the next few days. While we’re loath to comment on policy decisions without the full details, the broad context of this decision is clear.
“Given that gray wolves in the lower 48 states occupy such a small percentage of their historical habitat, it is almost laughable for the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine that they are successfully recovered,” said John Mellgren, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “On its face, this appears to be politically motivated. We look forward to reviewing the draft delisting rule, and look forward to taking the Fish and Wildlife Service to court should its proposal not be based on what the science tells us.”
WELC is active on wolf conservation issues in the American West, mounting cases promoting science-based management plans and against the rogue wildlife-killing program Wildlife Services in the Pacific Northwest. WELC is also heavily involved in Mexican gray wolf recovery efforts in the Southwest. It is yet unknown whether the delisting will affect Mexican gray wolves, which are listed separately but represent a critically imperiled sub-species of gray wolf.
“Wolves are a keystone species whose presence on landscapes regulates animal populations and improves ecosystem health – something the Service has acknowledged for at least 44 years,” said Kelly Nokes, Shared Earth Wildlife Attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Allowing people to kill wolves in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana has already stunted recovery in those states. Applying this same death-sentence to wolves throughout the contiguous U.S., would nationalize these negative effects, with potentially catastrophic ripple effects on ecosystems wherever wolves are found today.”
The best available science says gray wolves are not recovered. WELC will challenge in court any premature removal of endangered species protections for gray wolves by the Trump administration that does not meet the Endangered Species Act’s clear and strong scientific requirements.