Indianz.Com > News > Montana Free Press: Gray wolves denied endangered species status
Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)
A gray wolf (Canis lupus). Photo: Lori Iverson / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Federal government denies petitions to restore protections for gray wolves
The USFWS nixes request by conservation groups, concludes wolves are not facing extinction in the Western U.S.
Tuesday, February 6, 2024
Montana Free Press

The federal agency that oversees the Endangered Species Act announced late last week that it will not add Northern Rockies wolves back onto the list of threatened and endangered species.

In an announcement on February 2, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that its decision was based on its analysis of “the best available data” from federal, state and tribal sources, academic institutions and the public. The agency found that the number and distribution of gray wolves, paired with the population’s genetic diversity, indicate that wolves are not facing extinction.

“The model assessed various threats, including human-caused mortality, existing regulatory mechanisms, and disease,” the agency wrote in the release. “The analysis indicates that wolves are not at risk of extinction in the Western United States now or in the foreseeable future.” 

USFWS had been studying threats to the long-term viability of gray wolves living in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington at the behest of environmental groups that had filed two separate petitions to relist the animals in 2021. In September of that year, USFWS found “substantial information that potential increases in human-caused mortality may pose a threat to the gray wolf in the western U.S.” and that “new regulatory mechanisms in Idaho and Montana may be inadequate to address this threat.” 

In recent years, state legislatures in both Montana and Idaho have taken aggressive measures to reduce wolf numbers. Montana has expanded the bag limit for wolves and legalized the use of neck snares, hunting with bait and night hunting. The Montana Legislature also authorized the reimbursement of wolf hunters’ and trappers’ expenses, which critics characterize as a bounty on wolves. In Idaho, wolf trapping is allowed year-round on private land and the use of all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and dogs to hunt wolves is authorized. Idaho also established a state-supported fund to pay private contractors to kill wolves. 

USFWS alluded to such measures in its announcement, describing an expansion of “means and measures” to substantially reduce wolf numbers as being “at odds with modern professional wildlife management.” Nonetheless, the agency said it will continue to work with state and tribal partners “to craft enduring solutions that protect wolves and sustain human communities and livelihood.”

Last December, the agency released a review of gray wolf habitat, demographics and distribution that also incorporates anticipated changes to environmental conditions and conservation efforts. Human-caused mortality is identified as the “primary stressor” for gray wolves in that review, which also found that human-caused mortality is not pronounced enough to lead to an extinction of Northern Rockies wolves’ in the next 100 years “as long as future mortality rates are within the bounds” of the agency’s analysis.

Although it will not relist the country’s Northern Rockies gray wolf population, USFWS will develop a nationwide gray wolf recovery plan — a first for the animal — by December of 2025. According to the agency, recovery plans “provide a vision for species recovery that is connected to site-specific actions for reducing threats and conserving listed species and their ecosystems.” 

The agency noted that the legal status of gray wolves will not change as a result of its decision.

The Sierra Club, one of the groups that petitioned USFWS for a restoration of federal protections, described predator management in Northern Rockies legislatures as a “political football” and argued that USFWS “did not properly apply the best available science.”

“We’re not going to stand by and allow Northern Rockies states to push their radical agenda and ignore the American people who want healthy, abundant wildlife on our public lands and [to] have a healthy ecosystem that is in balance,” Nick Gevock, Sierra Club’s Northern Rockies field organizer, said in a statement. “FWS is completely missing how disgraceful anti-carnivore fervor is reversing conservation gains in this region.”

Center for Biological Diversity Northern Rockies Program Director Kristine Akland said in a statement that she is disappointed with USFWS’s decision.

“By denying protections to these beautiful creatures, the service is letting Northern Rockies states continue erasing decades of recovery efforts,” Akland said.

The Center for Biological Diversity said it is considering a legal challenge to the decision.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, which has a long history of favoring state management of predators like wolves and grizzly bears, did not respond to Montana Free Press’ request for comment Monday.

USFWS estimated there were 2,800 wolves distributed across at least 286 packs in seven Western states as of late 2022.

Note: This story originally appeared on Montana Free Press. It is published under a Creative Commons license.