There’s always been a special place in my heart reserved for wolves. The book I read over and over again as an adolescent was a hardcover National Geographic title called "Vanishing Wildlife of North America." Staring back at me, on the cover, was the most handsome gray wolf you could imagine, looking straight ahead with luminous eyes and with a dusting of snow crystals on his thick, rich gray and white fur. He was photographed on Isle Royale National Park in northern Michigan.
Some years later, it was no accident that I landed a four-month summer position with the Student Conservation Association at Isle Royale, an archipelago surrounded by the waters of Lake Superior just a short few miles by motorboat to the invisible U.S.-Canada border that transects the world’s biggest lake. If I had any turning point on the issue of animal protection—a vision that we could be protectors of animals, not their exploiters—this was it.
I’d paddle my canoe late at night on the still waters of Lake Superior, and drink up the quiet and awe of this place. In these silent and reflective moments, I decided I was all in. I was going to devote myself to protecting the wild and domesticated creatures of this planet.
So it’s with great pride that I say we’ve done a good and powerful thing for the wolves of the Great Lakes region—the place where I made my oath. I’m delighted to report that yesterday, in response to a lawsuit filed by The HSUS and other animal protection groups, a federal court in Washington, D.C. blocked the Bush Administration’s attempt to strip the Great Lakes population of gray wolves of all protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service turned wolf management over to the states of Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin, which opened the door to the killing of wolves by trophy hunters and trappers. Remarkably, the states had authorized the killing of nearly 50 percent of the region’s wolf population. But our legal team put a stop to that yesterday, and as a result the wolves in the Great Lakes are once again a federally protected species.
The decision prevents a repeat of the same mentality that drove this animal to the brink of extinction in the first place, and struck a heavy blow to the heart of wealthy trophy hunting groups like Safari Club International, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, and the National Rifle Association. These extremist hunting groups intervened in the case to advocate for the delisting of the species because their members were champing at the bit to take part in the largest slaughter of wolves since the early 1900s. Their arguments were summarily brushed aside by the court.
Hundreds of thousands of gray wolves once ranged across the United States. However, bounty programs, which lasted through the mid-1900s, nearly eliminated the gray wolf from the lower 48 states. The current wolf population numbers around 5,000 and is concentrated in two fragile remnant regions—the western Great Lakes and the northern Rocky Mountains—but the species is still absent from more than 90 percent of its historic range.
Our courtroom victory yesterday closes the door on this Administration’s entire wolf delisting scheme, as The HSUS and a broad coalition of conservation groups recently succeeded in restoring the Rocky Mountain wolf population to the endangered species list in a similar case filed in Montana. That decision prevented Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming from instituting their own hunting program for wolves this fall.
The significance of these two cases cannot be overstated. Due to our litigation efforts, the entire American wolf species will continue to receive federal protection, and the leghold traps and the trophy hunters’ guns will not do their work with these animals. It’s a great day for wolves.
I wish I could go back up to Isle Royale for a celebratory howl with the wolves.