Gray Wolves Losing Endangered Species Protection
June 8, 2013

Gray Wolves Losing Endangered Species Protection

April Flowers for — Your Universe Online

This week, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that the nation´s gray wolf population has recovered to the point that it can safely be removed from the threatened and endangered species list. Environmental groups are concerned that this move is premature.

According to an NBC News report, the FWS submitted two proposals. In the first, the wildlife service would delist the wolves and return management of them to the states where they dwell. The second proposes maintaining protections and expanding recovery efforts for the Mexican gray wolf in the southwest area of the nation, where it remains endangered. Federal protections have been in place for the gray wolves since 1978.

By the middle of the 20th century, the gray wolf was extirpated from the lower 48 states. The only exception was in the Great Lakes area. In 1986, Canadian wolves began to recolonize Montana. The FWS reintroduced 66 wolves in 1995 and 1996 to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.

These conservation efforts have paid off. According to the government, there are approximately 6,100 gray wolves in the contiguous US today, with 1,674 in the Northern Rockies and 4,432 in the Western Great Lakes.

In 2011, wolves were delisted in the Western Great Lakes and again in 2012 in the Northern Rockies. The current proposal would delist them throughout the country, including nascent populations in the Pacific Northwest.

"Our position is they are walking away from wolf recovery before the job is done," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the environmental group, The Center for Biological Diversity.

Before the 20th century, the gray wolf´s range included most of the North American continent. Today, they occupy small pockets in only ten states. Wolf population densities differ across the nation, with suitable habitats in California, the southern Rocky Mountains, and parts of the Northeast that are unpopulated. Greenwald suggests that the government should extend protections to allow wolf populations to recover in those areas as well.

The Wall Street Journal reports that there are currently no breeding populations in the northeast region of the nation, even though there are populations of wolves in Canada not far from the US border. FWS Endangered Species Specialist Mark McCollough said there are populations of Eastern wolves in Canada within 60 miles of the Maine border, but the St. Lawrence River acts as a natural barrier, keeping all but a few of the wolves from finding their way south.

There have been sightings of large, wolf-like animals in the region from time to time. Genetic testing has found these to be mixes of wolf species and eastern coyote.

According to the LA Times, the secondary proposal would continue protections in New Mexico and Arizona for the struggling population of Mexican gray wolves, which is considered a distinct species by the FWS. Currently, there are only 73 animals in these states, mostly due to illegal killings and inbreeding. If the proposal is approved, the protected territory would be expanded by a tenfold increase and law enforcement efforts to ward off poaching would be bolstered.

Because each state´s laws will be different, with many allowing wolf hunts already, Mercury News suggests that lawsuits challenging the plan will be filed shortly. Hunting and agriculture groups, however, are welcoming the announcement.

Past and present members of the FWS are expressing doubts about this plan. A former director says that this "is a far cry from what we envisioned for gray wolf recovery when we embarked on this almost 20 years ago." Jamie Rappaport Clark, who was with the agency in the 1990s and now heads up the group Defenders of Wildlife, agrees, "The service is giving up when the job's only half-done."

There is a 90-day public comment period on the proposals before a decision is made.