Things you need to know about wolves and delisting

Most U.S. wolves outside of Alaska may be removed from the protection of the Endangered Species Act. Here are 10 frequently asked questions about the proposal, and information on how you can comment.

  • What is being proposed? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) wants to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from the list of endangered species in the contiguous United States.
  • What would the proposed change NOT do? It would not remove protection from the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), which would be listed as an endangered subspecies. About 143 Mexican wolves have been reestablished in central Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico.. The proposal also would not affect the endangered status of red wolves (Canis rufus) in the Southeast.
  • Where would wolves NOT be affected? Wolves have already been delisted and are under state management in Idaho,  Montana, Wyoming, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and north-central Utah.
  • In what states would gray wolves no longer be listed as an endangered species? All 50 states, except Arizona and New Mexico.
  • Where in the U. S. are wolves present now? Gray wolf packs are known to be in Washington state, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming,  Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Alaska.
    Individual dispersing wolves have also been documented in Utah, Colorado, North Dakota, Iowa, South Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Maine, Kentucky, Nebraska and New York.
  • Wasn’t the Endangered Species Act required to restore wolves to their entire historic range? The FWS says, “The Act does not require us to restore the gray wolf (or any other species) to all of its historical range or even to a majority of the currently suitable habitat. Instead, the Act requires that we recover listed species such that they no longer meet the definitions of “threatened species” or “endangered species, i.e., are no longer in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future. For some species, recovery may require expansion of their current distribution, but the amount of expansion is driven by a species’ biological needs affecting viability and sustainability, and not by an arbitrary percent of a species’ historical range or currently suitable habitat. Many other species may be recovered in portions of their historical range or currently suitable habitat by removing or addressing the threats to their continued existence. And some species may be recovered by a combination of range expansion and threats reduction. There is no set formula for how recovery must be achieved.”
  • What are some commonly stated pro/con comments about the proposal?

PRO: Wolves are recovered, according to biological standards, with a population of at least 6,100 in many areas of the contiguous 48 U.S. where there is enough wild prey, good habitat and minimum road- and human-density.  Their population has been stable or increasing for several years and is contiguous with the Canadian population of about 60,000 and Alaska’s 8,000-10,000.

CON: One school of thought holds the following view: The  USFWS’s portrayal of recovery disregards the full definition for threatened (any species likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range) and endangered (any species likely to become extinct within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range) species. The USFWS perspective does not meet the 1973 regulations (amended from legal antecedents in 1966 and 1969). The Service cannot ignore the geographic component of recovery. Moreover, the FWS cannot implement the Act in a manner consistent with Congressional intent and previous agency action by equating “its range” with “its current range”. “Its range” has to equate with “its historical range” for the ESA to have the broad sweeping impact intended by Congress and for previous agency actions to have relevance to future agency actions. Otherwise there would be no recovery program for the black-footed ferret, California condor, red wolf, and Mexican wolf, to name just a few species that existed only in captivity and therefore had no current range prior to ESA-authorized reintroduction programs.

PRO: Delisting will help states without wolves, in that if wolves recolonize those states, they can be managed like other species without special federal regulations.

CON: The nationwide delisting would make it less likely that wolves will repopulate, on their own, parts of Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and New England. In particular, suitable high-quality habitat is abundant in the Southern Rockies Ecoregion.

PRO: Delisting wolves would prove that the ESA works, making Congress less likely to amend or repeal it.

CON: One cannot say that the ESA works if it embraces a simplistic perspective of success and does not meet its own stated criterion for recovery of a species.

PRO: As management for wolves passes to the states, wolves will still be protected so that their populations never dip below the numbers set in the  USFWS’s recovery plans.

CON: Where states have assumed management of wolves they have instituted or plan controversial (although sustainable and regulated) recreational hunting and trapping seasons, that, for animal protectionists, seem to subvert the whole purpose of past wolf recovery efforts.

PRO: Scarce federal funds that would have been used for continued wolf recovery can now be allocated for many lesser-known endangered species on a lengthy waiting list.