BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Wildlife advocates are asking a federal court to overturn a U.S. government decision that stripped Endangered Species Act protections for wolves across most of the nation.
Two coalitions of advocacy groups filed lawsuits Thursday in U.S. District Court in Northern California seeking to restore protections for the predators.
The Fish and Wildlife Service protected gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act in 1978. In October 2020, the Trump administration announced that wolves were considered recovered from near-extinction across most of the U.S. On Oct. 29, 2020, the administration officially removed the animals from the endangered species list across most of the lower 48 states, with the exception of a small population of Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest.
According to recent data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its state partners, these are the current wolf population numbers in the west:
- 4,400 wolves in the western Great Lakes states
- 108 wolves in Washington state (with 20 outside of eastern Washington)
- 158 in Oregon (with 16 outside of northeastern Oregon)
- 15 in California
- Few confirmed wolf sightings in Nevada, Utah, and Colorado over the past three years
Critics of the move say continued protections are needed so fledgling wolf populations in Colorado and on the West Coast can continue to expand.
When the administration ended the endangered species protection, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt declared wolves had recovered after 45 years under federal protection. He added that federal wildlife officials hailed wolves as an Endangered Species Act success along with the bald eagle, according to The Denver Post.
Bart Melton, wildlife program director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the move to remove gray wolves from Endangered Species Act protection in the lower 48 states threatens the populations that are just starting to make a comeback in national parks.
“After decades of absence, gray wolves are starting to re-inhabit park landscapes in Oregon, Washington, California and Colorado," Melton said. "However, these populations are far from recovered. Rather than working alongside communities to support the return of wolves, the administration unlawfully said, ‘good enough’ and removed ESA protections. We are hopeful the court will reinstate these protections.”
In November, Coloradans voted to pass Proposition 114 to reintroduce and manage gray wolves in Colorado passes. Gray wolves were native to Colorado but were hunted to near extinction by the 1940s, with the last Colorado wolf being killed in the middle of that decade. However, wolves have been spotted in Moffatt County in recent years.
Following the vote, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission was tasked with developing a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves west of the Continental Divide.
Coloradans Protecting Wildlife said that it is still concerned about wolf reintroduction but will work to prepare the Western Slope for the animal’s future reintroduction and work to uphold the rights of farmers and ranchers and others impacted by voters’ decision.