The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has denied petitions to restore protections for gray wolves, according to a recent article by Montana Free Press. The agency found that the number and distribution of gray wolves, paired with the population’s genetic diversity, indicate that wolves are not facing extinction.
This decision will allow Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana to continue their widespread killing of these intelligent, family-oriented native animals. Wildlife advocates argue that the gray wolf population is still vulnerable and that state management plans aiming to aggressively reduce wolf populations threaten the recovery of gray wolves.
Advocacy groups like the Center for Biological Diversity have been calling for wolves to be relisted under the Endangered Species Act due to aggressive hunting policies in states like Idaho and Montana. In 2021, Idaho passed a law that could allow 90% of the state’s 1,500 wolves to be killed. Montana also passed laws to significantly expand wolf hunting and trapping opportunities.
Critics say these liberal hunting policies are not based on science and put wolf populations at risk. They argue the species needs federal protections to prevent states from dramatically reducing wolf numbers. Defenders of Wildlife, another advocacy group, said the USFWS decision ignores the ongoing threats wolves face from hostile state policies.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has released a draft plan to guide its management of wolves, which is open to public comment through December 19th. The Montana Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan seeks to replace the 20-year-old document that has guided Montana’s approach to managing wolves since Congress removed them from the Endangered Species Act in 2011.
The proposal has implications for a lawsuit over state lawmakers’ attempts to reduce wolf numbers. In September 2021, the USFWS found “substantial information that potential increases in human-caused mortality may pose a threat to the gray wolf in the western U.S.” and that “new regulatory mechanisms in Idaho and Montana may be inadequate to address this threat.”
The decision comes after the agency announced in 2020 that it found sufficient merit in petitions seeking the relisting of wolves to warrant further review. However, the USFWS has now denied these petitions, citing evidence that wolves are not facing extinction. This decision continues to face criticism from wildlife advocates concerned about the long-term viability of gray wolf populations.