The announcement made by the federal agency responsible for the Endangered Species Act revealed that the Northern Rockies wolves will not be reclassified as threatened or endangered species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared on February 2 that its decision was grounded in a comprehensive analysis of data from various sources, including federal, state, and tribal agencies, academic institutions, and the public. Based on this analysis, it was determined that gray wolves are not at risk of extinction, considering factors such as their population size, distribution, and genetic diversity.
According to the agency’s statement, they conducted a comprehensive assessment that considered different factors like human-caused mortality, existing regulations, and disease. The findings of the analysis indicate that wolves in the Western United States are not currently at risk of extinction and are projected to be safe in the foreseeable future.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) conducted a study on the threats faced by gray wolves in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, and Washington. This study was initiated in response to petitions from environmental groups to relist the animals in 2021. In September of the same year, the USFWS discovered “substantial information” indicating that the potential increase in human-caused mortality could pose a threat to the gray wolf population in the western United States. Additionally, they found that the regulatory mechanisms implemented in Idaho and Montana may not be sufficient to address this threat.
In the past few years, state legislatures in Montana and Idaho have implemented aggressive tactics to decrease the wolf population. Montana, for instance, has expanded the bag limit for wolves and legalized the use of neck snares, hunting with bait, and night hunting. Additionally, the Montana Legislature has approved the reimbursement of expenses for wolf hunters and trappers, which some critics argue is tantamount to offering a bounty on wolves. On the other hand, Idaho permits wolf trapping year-round on private land and authorizes the use of all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, and dogs for wolf hunting. Moreover, Idaho has established a state-supported fund to hire private contractors for the purpose of eliminating wolves.
The USFWS hinted at the implementation of such actions in its announcement, stating that the expansion of strategies to significantly decrease the wolf population goes against modern wildlife management practices. However, the agency emphasized its commitment to collaborating with state and tribal partners to develop long-lasting solutions that ensure the protection of wolves while also supporting human communities and their livelihoods.
In December of last year, the agency conducted a comprehensive assessment of gray wolf habitat, demographics, and distribution. This assessment also took into account the projected environmental changes and conservation efforts. The review identified human-caused mortality as the main factor impacting gray wolves. However, it concluded that the current mortality rates are not significant enough to pose a threat of extinction to Northern Rockies wolves within the next century, as long as future mortality rates remain within the parameters established by the agency’s analysis.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has announced that it will not be relisting the gray wolf population in the Northern Rockies. However, they have made a significant commitment to develop a nationwide gray wolf recovery plan by December 2025. This marks the first time such a plan will be implemented for this species. The agency emphasizes that recovery plans play a crucial role in outlining strategies to reduce threats and protect the listed species and their ecosystems.
The agency clarified that its decision will not alter the legal status of gray wolves.
The Sierra Club, a group that requested the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to restore federal protections, criticized the management of predators in Northern Rockies legislatures, calling it a “political football.” They also questioned the USFWS’s application of the best available science in this matter.
“We won’t just sit back and let the Northern Rockies states impose their extreme agenda and disregard the wishes of the American people who desire thriving wildlife and a balanced ecosystem on our public lands,” remarked Nick Gevock, Sierra Club’s Northern Rockies field organizer, expressing his concerns. “The Fish and Wildlife Service fails to acknowledge the detrimental impact of the alarming anti-carnivore sentiment, which is undoing the progress we have made in conservation efforts in this region.”
Kristine Akland, the Northern Rockies Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, expressed her disappointment with the decision made by the USFWS.
According to Akland, the service’s refusal to provide protections for these magnificent creatures allows Northern Rockies states to undo the progress made in conservation over several decades.
The decision is being considered for a legal challenge by the Center for Biological Diversity.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, known for its preference for state management of predators such as wolves and grizzly bears, did not provide a response to Montana Free Press’ request for comment on Monday.
According to the latest data from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the population of wolves in the Western states has been estimated at approximately 2,800 individuals. These wolves are spread out among 286 different packs. This information was gathered as of late 2022.