In January 2021, wolves were removed from Endangered Species List protections, and wolf- population management returned to individual states. Since then, some of those states have attracted international attention for their management plans. Other states have taken more conservative measures.
With such different approaches, it can be hard to keep straight what has changed and what hasn’t. This post aims to provide an update on where states are and what’s next for wolves in 2022.
Back in court
It’s possible that wolves could end up listed right back on the Endangered Species List in 2022. On Jan. 14, 2021, six environmental groups filed a lawsuit challenging the delisting. Then, in November, a federal judge heard oral arguments from those conservation advocates. Among the arguments made by advocates were:
- One year before the delisting rule was finalized, 1.8 million Americans submitted comments opposing the delisting;
- Eighty-six members of Congress submitted letters opposing the delisting; and
- The scientific peer reviews commissioned by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service itself, before the delisting rule was finalized, “found that the agency’s proposal to delist wolves ignored science and appeared to come to a predetermined conclusion, with inadequate scientific support,” according to a post from the Center for Biological Diversity. Those concerns were then considered before the final rule was published.
On Feb. 10, 2022, a federal judge restored protections for wolves in much of the United States. You can learn more by reading this story from the Associated Press.
In another development, Idaho and Montana each liberalized wolf taking in 2021 (see below for details) that concerned the Biden administration. Those changes in Idaho and Montana were cited when the administration said in September that federal protections for wolves may need to be restored after new state laws made it easier to kill wolves.
The Associated Press reported that “the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initial determination that the region’s wolves could again be in peril — after decades spent restoring them — will kick off a year-long biological review.”
There’s no definitive timetable yet for when the biological review will be completed.
Then, on Dec. 15, a bipartisan group of 81 U.S. Congressional Representatives sent a letter urging the Department of Interior to “immediately issue an emergency listing to temporarily restore federal protections through the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to the gray wolf,” according to The Corvallis Advocate.
In the letter, they wrote:
“While we appreciate the Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) decision to conduct a 12-month status review to revisit the listing of the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies, we are extremely concerned that wolves around the country will continue to be needlessly killed in the interim, further jeopardizing the species. We have already seen evidence of mass killings in several states after the gray wolf was delisted, and more, larger hunts are planned as of now. Such actions warrant an emergency listing to protect the species from dangerous reductions in population size that could lead to extinction.”
What’s happening at the state level?
Once wolves were delisted and management returned to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the agency got to work planning a fall hunt, as stipulated in its wolf-management plan and by state law. Hunting advocates, though, sued to speed up the process, and a judge ruled in their favor, paving the way for a February, 2021 wolf hunt.
That hunting season lasted just 63 hours during which hunters killed 216 wolves, far more than the state’s allotted limit of 119.
The last time Wisconsin’s wolf management plan was updated was in 2007, and advocacy groups cited that plan as outdated when they sued to stop the state’s planned hunt in November 2021. A Dane County Circuit Judge agreed and issued a temporary injunction to stop the winter hunt. This case will not be resolved before Feb. 28, 2022, which is the final day of the state’s hunting and trapping season for wolves, meaning that there will not be a 2021-22 winter hunt in Wisconsin.
The state’s DNR is working to update its management plan, and they are aiming to have a final plan draft in June to present to the state’s Natural Resources Board.
Wisconsin had an estimated wolf population of approximately 1,136 before the February 2021 hunt.
Minnesota, home to the largest population of wolves in the contiguous United States (approximately 2,800 wolves), did not have a hunting season in 2021. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spent its year working to update its wolf management plan. Three virtual open houses were held, online comments were gathered, surveys were taken and an advisory committee met several times.
It is expected that the state will unveil its revised wolf management plan in 2022.
Federal protections were removed for wolves in Idaho in 2011, so the delisting that occurred in January 2021 didn’t affect the state’s management of wolves.
After the decision to remove wolves from the ESA, though, several changes took place in Idaho.
The state senate passed a bill (1211) that “established a year-round trapping season for wolves on private property, allowed for unlimited purchase of wolf tags, and allowed for any method used for taking any wild canine in Idaho (foxes, coyotes) to also be available for taking wolves,” according to a post on the Idaho Department of Fish and Game website.
The state also expanded several hunting methods, including the following:
- Weapon restrictions (for hunting big game) do not apply for wolf hunting.
- Exemption from shooting hours and allowance for spotlight or night vision equipment. Written permission from the landowner is required on private land, and a permit from the Director of Fish and Game is required on public land, which is consistent with requirements for spotlighting coyotes at night.
- Hunting wolves over bait is allowed on private land with landowner permission.
- Motorized vehicle restrictions for hunting big game do not apply for wolf hunting.
- Dogs may be used to pursue wolves, and no hound hunter permit is required.
The state also passed a law that provides money for the state to hire private contractors to kill wolves.
Critics of Idaho’s plan say it could lead to the killing of 90 percent of the state’s 1,500 wolves, a claim that was disputed by the state’s director of fish and game.
Federal protections were removed for wolves in Montana in 2011, so the delisting that occurred in January 2021 didn’t affect the state’s management of wolves.
However, the state did make significant changes to its wolf hunting season after the ruling.
By April, the state’s governor signed a bill allowing the use of private funds to reimburse wolf hunters and trappers for their expenses.
The state’s fish and wildlife commission voted to allow neck snaring and trap baiting statewide, night hunting on private land and changed the limits for each hunter and trapper. Trappers are allowed to kill a total of 10 wolves each season and hunters are allowed to kill 10 wolves each season.
There is no state quota on the number of wolves that could be killed during a hunting season, but a review of the harvest would automatically be triggered if 450 wolves were reported to be killed. The state has an estimated population of 800 to 1,200 wolves.
The law that allows unlimited wolf kills in the state requires only that enough wolves remain in the state to support at least 15 breeding pairs (defined as a male, female, and two pups),” according to National Geographic.
There was not a wolf-hunting season in 2021 in Michigan, despite the removal of wolves from the Endangered Species Act protections. The last time there was a hunting season in Michigan was 2013.
There are about 700 wolves in Michigan, almost all of which are in the Upper Peninsula.
A state senate committee did approve a resolution to push state wildlife officials to authorize a wolf hunting season in 2021, but there was no such season.
The state’s wolf-management plan was last updated in 2015. It is being revised and an updated plan is expected in 2022. It’s not known if the updated plan will include a provision for hunting.
While Colorado works to implement the state’s formal wolf reintroduction plan, wolves are beginning to repopulate the state on their own. Wolf pups were born in the state for the first time since the 1940s.
After voters in the state passed a measure approving the reintroduction, Colorado Parks and Wildlife must have a plan together by Dec. 31, 2023.
Wolves in Wyoming were removed from Endangered Species Act protections in 2017. There is an annual hunting season in parts of Wyoming where wolves are considered to be trophy game. In other parts of the state, wolves are considered predatory animals and can be killed without a license at any time, year-round — this rule applies throughout about 85 percent of Wyoming.
There were about 325 wolves in the state in 2020, with about 125 of those in Yellowstone National Park.
In 2021, wolves in Washington state were delisted from the federal Endangered Species Act. However, wolves are still protected with legal status under state law in Washington. Because wolves are listed as a state endangered species, it is illegal to kill, harm or harass them. Washington’s wolf population is estimated at about 175 wolves.
Wolves were removed from the state’s Endangered Species List in Oregon in 2015 and then from federal protection in 2021. Wolves in the state are still protected, though, through the state’s wolf-management plan and Oregon statute.
Despite those protections, wolves in Oregon are often illegally killed. The Catherine wolf pack was poisoned in 2021, leading conservation organizations to assemble nearly $50,000 in reward money.
There are about 175 wolves in Oregon.
Wolves in California are protected under the California Endangered Species Act. It is prohibited to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill wolves in the state.
There are about 15 to 20 wolves in the state.
The International Wolf Center advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future.