Let's talk about wolves. This hot-button species has aroused more ire and passion in our nation than perhaps any other. And, incredibly, there is no end in sight to the fight over the fate of this predator. Anti-wolf crusaders aren't backing down - and we certainly aren't, either.
This saga has a long and twisted history. Just over 100 years ago, between 250,000 and 500,000 wolves lived in harmony with people across nearly all of the continental US. Then, around the turn of the century, the federal government began a fear-mongering extermination campaign that, unsurprisingly, resulted in the near extinction of an entire species. The enactment of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973, however, and the immediate protections that followed for gray wolves, allowed the species to begin on a gradual and halting path toward recovery.
Fast forward to today, and you'll find a species that is no longer on the brink of extinction, but is also far from fully recovered throughout its original range. After decades on the list of endangered species, in 2011, protections for gray wolves were removed across the Western Great Lakes region. The tragic result was the immediate implementation of brutal killing seasons by several states, resulting in the deaths of more than 2,500 wolves.
Thankfully, dual court decisions toward the end of 2014 finally stopped the bloodshed. US District Judge Beryl A. Howell severely reprimanded both federal and state governments for the way they handled wolf conservation. She declared, "The D.C. Circuit has noted that, at times, a court 'must lean forward from the bench to let an agency know, in no uncertain terms, that enough is enough.' This case is one of those times." But, apparently, enough has not been enough, because the battle continues.
At this very moment, we are fighting two federal bills and a multitude of state bills that seek to undo wolf protections yet again. The stern and unequivocal rulings by Judge Howell and others have, paradoxically, only heightened the outrage of the illogical anti-wolf contingent. US Representative Kline (R-MN) introduced H.R. 843 to again delist Western Great Lakes wolves, while a bill from Representative Ribble (R-WI) goes a step further and includes Wyoming in the tally. These reactive and uninformed measures not only threaten gray wolves, but all of our imperiled wildlife. If Congress sets a precedent of overruling both the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the courts on matters of species' survival, this will only be the first of a flood of proposals aimed at delisting additional species based on politics rather than on science.
Meanwhile, state measures introduced in 2015 have become, quite frankly, absurd. Let's take the state of Washington as an example, although it is certainly not alone in its attack on this predator. Washington has bills to delist wolves in the eastern third of the state, to require the use of lethal methods when managing wolf-related interactions, to permit delisting of wolves region by region, and to translocate wolves across the state (for a tidy $1 million, I might add). Two more bills call for the state to weaken the existing wolf management plan. It is risky and irresponsible - and a waste of taxpayer dollars - to play these guessing games with wolf management when the recovering population cannot sustain such abuse.
So, where does this leave the wolves? At the moment, they are still listed under the ESA, and we aim to keep it that way. The path forward, however, is equally complex. Born Free USA recently joined with other organizations in petitioning FWS to downlist gray wolves from "endangered" to "threatened." We see this as the only viable way forward, and believe that this move has the potential to create a compromise to which most legislators can agree. A threatened status prevents states from creating open hunting seasons on wolves, but gives ranchers and state wildlife authorities more flexibility in dealing with wildlife conflict.
While we wait for the outcome of this petition, we will continue to raise our voices for wolves, and never give up on ensuring that this majestic species has a secure future in our nation.
Keep Wildlife in the Wild,