Meanwhile, two U.S. senators, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (R) and John Barrasso of Wyoming (R), are aiming to delist wolves specifically from their endangered status in the Great Lakes region and Wyoming. That effort will also "prohibit courts from intervening in those states on the embattled predator's behalf," reports the Associated Press.
"Wyoming has honored its commitment and put together a solid and working plan to protect the state's wolf population. Even the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agrees that wolves should be delisted in Wyoming," Barrasso said in a joint statement with Johnson's office. "This is just one of many legislative opportunities we'll continue to pursue until Wyoming's wolf management plan is protected and fully implemented."
What does this mean?
"This is huge," Ralph Henry, director of animal protection litigation at HSUS, told The Dodo. "Wolves don't have a national recovery plan. It isn't Congress' place to decide whether species need federal protection."
"The vast majority of wolves' historical population loss," adds Henry, "is because of direct, state-sponsored bounties. State-sponsored bounties and rampant intentional killing is what drove the species to the brink of extinction. States like Wisconsin, Wyoming and Montana were literally paying people to shoot wolves. And that is the fear - that we will go back to that status."
If this legislation prevails, Henry maintains, wolves will be the target of sport hunters, trappers or government-controlled killing programs alike in these states.
How did we get here?
"Let's take a step back," Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Dodo.
"Gray wolf recovery in the U.S. has been very patchy. There have been a few places where [the species has] done well, mainly the northern Rockies and the Great Lakes. But by the year 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said 'that was enough' in terms of where we need to have wolves in the lower 48, and since then, FWS has tried to delist the wolves from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and those protections."
Hartl argues that FWS has tried to repeatedly remove wolves' protections "piecemeal" and "every time they have done that, the courts have said, 'No, that's not how the ESA works because you have to recover the wolf in its historic habitat.'"
However, in 2011, Congress intervened, and delisted the wolf in Idaho and Montana.
"What we saw after that," says Hartl, "was the de-evolution of wolf management in those states because the way that Congress delisted them, there was no recourse if the wolf [population] declined." What followed was, in short, something of a free-for-all hunt on wolves: no quotas on wolf killings, the introduction of policies that allow wolves to be shot-on-sight and an uptick in wolves who were hunted and killed from the air.
"And it knocked down the population," Hartl says.
Hartl says the same scenario is now happening in Wyoming and the Great Lakes region, in addition to Idaho and Montana.
"The danger of these riders," he adds, "is that they are inside such important legislation, where we are forced to accept them. The omnibus bills are the big budget bills that basically fund the government. So you are forced to swallow some of the riders versus [being] against keeping the government's lights on."