By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will issue a proposed rule to strip Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in all of the lower 48 states, further jeopardizing animals in a fragile state of recovery after years of persecution. The proposed rule, announced by Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, would especially affect wolf populations in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Oregon where they are now protected under the ESA.
The delisting proposal comes just as we release reports confirming the relatively small impact that wolves (and grizzly bears and cougars) have on livestock – the reason usually cited by states and the federal government when announcing wolf delisting decisions. Our report also provides evidence of the U.S. Department of Agriculture using exaggerated data on the numbers of cattle and other farm animals killed by wolves. By comparing livestock losses data released by state agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service, our researchers found that wolves accounted for less than one percent of cattle and sheep losses in the states where they live. In fact, all predators combined take nine times fewer farm animals than illness, weather and theft.
In reality, this delisting rule is nothing more than a handout to trophy hunters, trappers and the agribusiness lobby. Under pressure from these interests, Congress and state and federal wildlife management agencies have pushed a wolf-delisting agenda for decades. In recent years, we have seen more than 100 attacks on wolves and the ESA, including bills in Congress.
The ESA mandates that delisting decisions be based solely on the best available science, but the Interior Department’s rush to delist gray wolves is not backed by any science at all. Wolf populations are still recovering in the states where they live, and they occupy only a fraction of their historic range.
We already know what happens when states allow wolves to be hunted. At present, in four states, wolves are not protected by the ESA. Of these, in Idaho and Montana alone, more than 3,200 wolves have been killed since 2011. In Wyoming, wolves can be killed without a license by just about any means at any time in more than 80 percent of the state. When protections for Great Lakes region wolves were lifted between 2011 and 2014, nearly 1,500 wolves, including many pups, were killed in unsporting ways, including with cable neck snares, steel-jawed leg-hold traps, packs of hounds and with bait.
It was just last November when a trophy hunter killed Spitfire, a famous Yellowstone National Park wolf, in Montana as she stepped over an invisible line out of the park. In response, State Sen. Mike Phillips of Montana has introduced a bill to protect Yellowstone’s wolves, the most viewed and photographed in the world.
The Humane Society of the United States has been on the frontlines to protect wolves. We’ve won a series of landmark legal cases to keep wolves protected under the ESA, and we have fended off Congressional attempts to reduce protections for these iconic American carnivores. We’ve even advanced and won state ballot initiatives to keep wolves out of the crosshairs and defended those victories in court.
In December, with the Center for Biological Diversity, we proposed an alternative way forward to give wolves the protections they need, including reclassifying gray wolves from “endangered” to “threatened” status under the ESA. Our proposed solution is based on the best available science and sound legal grounds, and we urge the FWS to accept it.
We cannot allow our government to hand over the fate of our most precious wildlife species to those few who seek to kill them under the guise of misplaced and exaggerated fear for livestock, or just to decorate dens and living rooms with their heads and hides, while depriving millions of Americans of the joy of seeing such animals in the wild. Please let the FWS know that federal ESA protections should not be stripped from gray wolves across the contiguous United States. Time is running out for our wolves, and it is critical you speak out for them before it’s too late.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund