New Proposal: list the Gray Wolf as "Threatened" throughout its historic range in the lower 48.

Post date: Jan 28, 2015 12:17:13 AM

Wolf advocates are thinking outside of the box with a new petition to manage Gray Wolf recovery past the initial stages of protection, remaining under the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Humane Society of the United States. 2015. Groups Petition to Reclassify Gray Wolves to Threatened Status under Endangered Species Act. January 27.

Humane Society of the United States et al. 2015. Petition to Reclassify Gray Wolves as Threatened in the Conterminus United States Under the Endangered Species Act.

Potential problems with the proposal:

  • It would abandon the controversial, but still current, strategy of delegating wolf management to the states (the "state strategy").
    • A more workable alternative might be to repair the state strategy.
    • The state strategy has the overwhelming support of the U.S. Legislative and Executive Branches, the state game & fish agencies and their wolf-management roundtables, and the agricultural lobby.
    • Granted, the states' wolf management plans and implementations haven't conformed to requirements of the ESA. Their shortcomings have been pointed out by wolf advocates for years. In the Western Great Lakes states, the most critical shortcomings from a legal perspective were highlighted in a 12/2014 federal court decision. As a result of all the above, there's a clearly-defined list of items in need of repair, and a number of compelling reasons to repair them.
    • The newly-proposed strategy would throw out the repair list and "go back to the drawing board."
  • It would not provide full protection in regions of the lower 48 states (e.g. Colorado, Oregon, New York, Maine) where Gray Wolf populations haven't yet been restored.
    • Problem: initially, there was a shortage of petition signers from these regions.
    • Partial resolution: some organizations (and, presumably, some Members of the U.S. Congress) from these regions have since expressed their support.
    • No full resolution of the problem: comments on the issue so far seem to be limited to petition signatures; there does not seem to have been a broad-based discussion of "pros and cons."
  • It would not necessarily stand up in court.
    • In regions where species recovery has not yet begun, or not yet succeeded, it would compromise current protections under the ESA .
    • In other regions, it would attempt to provide protections beyond those that have been provided by the ESA.
  • It would attempt to invoke federal authority with the idea that it would "make everything better."
    • Problem: federal protections like that tend to be opposed as "government overreach."
    • Partial resolution: that's why we have the "state strategy."
    • No full resolution: equivalent state protections tend to be opposed as "government overreach."

Update: 5/4/2015

A framework for a National Wolf Recovery Plan has been proposed by Michigan Tech environmental scientist and wolf expert John Vucetich et al.

It would define clear boundaries for "Gray Wolf range," continue to assist livestock producers and pet owners in avoiding and recovering from losses, and--as long as necessary within the newly-defined boundaries--maintain protections for the Gray Wolf under the U.S. Endangered Species Act as a "threatened" species (thus allowing lethal depredation control).

It's a well-balanced plan that begins with the "lower-48 threatened" proposal, but goes on from there to solve more of the problems that need solving.

Update: 3/4/2015

A 3/4/2015 letter from 79 Members of the U.S. Congress supported this proposal to "downlist" rather than "delist" the Gray Wolf in the lower-48 States:

Members of the US Congress. 2015. "Downlist rather than Delist the Gray Wolf in the Lower 48 States," March 4.

In an angry outburst the next day, Rep. Don Young (R-AK) said he'd like to introduce wolves to the Congressional Districts of the letter signatories, warning them that "you won't have a homeless problem any more." His implication, of course, was that the wolves would kill the homeless people. A spokesman for Rep. Young was quick to point out that the Congressman didn't mean the statement literally.

Kleinman, Rachel. 2015. "Alaska Rep. Don Young: Wolves Could Solve Your ‘homeless Problem.'" MSNBC. March 5.


USFWS map of the lower-48 states with shading to show Gray Wolf, Mexican Gray Wolf, and Red Wolf status under the ESA as of October 2012.