USFWS director says federal protections for wolves will be removed by end of year

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on September 1, 2020 with 12 Comments

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency tasked with protecting American wildlife, is getting closer to allowing trophy hunters and cattle ranchers to open season on the gray wolf, one of our nation’s most iconic—as well as most persecuted—animals.

USFWS director Aurelia Skipwith told the Associated Press in an interview this week that her agency is “working hard” to lift federal protections for gray wolves across the lower 48 states by the end of this year. “I’d say it’s very imminent,” she added.

The USFWS last year proposed a rule removing these protections: a rule nearly two million Americans opposed in comments to the agency because removing wolves from the ESA at this time could be disastrous for the long-term survival of these animals.

Skipwith claims that wolves have “biologically recovered” and that their removal from the list would demonstrate the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act: a false claim in itself, because the ESA requires that a species be recovered throughout a larger portion of its historic range to be taken off the list; wolves now inhabit approximately 15% of their historic range in the contiguous United States.

What Skipwith conveniently left out of that interview is the real reason these protections are being removed: as a handout to trophy hunters and the meat industry who have long wanted such an outcome and now have a close ally in the agency. Skipwith, who was appointed director in December last year, has had no reservations about aligning herself openly with trophy hunting interests and earlier this year she was a speaker at the annual convention of Safari Club International, one of the world’s largest gathering of trophy hunters.

Scientists have warned that the FWS proposal to delist wolves does not represent the best available science on wolf conservation. What’s more, if wolves were delisted, states will be empowered with managing wolves on their lands, and we already know what that will look like.

In 2011, Congress directed the USFWS to remove ESA protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho, as a nod to agriculture and trophy hunting interests. Wolves in Wyoming were also delisted in 2017. These decisions have led to thousands of wolves being massacred across these states, using exceptionally cruel methods like being chased down by GPS-collared hounds, being caught in steel-jawed leghold traps and wire snares, and even being run down with snowmobiles or large trucks.

Altogether, nearly 6,000 wolves have been killed in these and the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, where federal protections for wolves were removed ​in 2011 until a successful HSUS lawsuit returned them to the endangered species list in 2014. Of the nearly 1,500 wolves killed ​before our suit brought a stop to ​the vicious recreational hunting, trapping, snaring and hounding that was allowed during that period, many were just pups. If federal protections were to be lifted now, these are the animals who would be most at risk of being wiped out again. We simply cannot let that happen.

The beauty of a wolf inspires awe and admiration in most hearts; these are highly sentient animals with close family ties. We also rely on wolves to keep our environment in balance. These keystone native carnivores play a critical role in the ecosystems they inhabit, driving biodiversity and restoring balance. They help keep deer and elk herds strong by removing sick, weak and old animals and help reduce the spread of disease among those species, including chronic wasting disease.

On the other hand, there is no evidence that wolves pose a serious threat to livestock—which is the excuse the USFWS has most often cited for delisting them. In a report last year, Humane Society of the United States researchers compared livestock losses data released by state agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, and the USFWS, and found that the federal data was highly exaggerated and that wolves accounted for less than 1% of cattle and sheep losses in the states where they live.

The USFWS’s attack on wolves may be one of its worst actions in recent years, but it’s hardly the only one; the agency has been working assiduously to dismantle the Endangered Species Act itself. But Skipwith would do well to remember that her job is to make policies in the best interests of all Americans and American wildlife; not for the benefit of a handful of special interests. We urge her to toss this disastrous plan before it’s too late. Wolves have a powerful ally in the majority of Americans who value them and want to see them protected; with their support, we stand ready to fight with all of our might against this shameless abuse of power.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Edon Copparini says:

    Please protect our wolves and all our wildlife!

  2. Bruno says:

    That s just the latest shameful plan from the people appointed by the Trump administration…which is by far the most disastrous for environment and nature in the US ever….

    • The Animal Blog says:

      I see where you’re coming from, but this issue has been going on long before Trump and will go on long after he’s gone. Furthermore, in terms of wolves, I’d have to say that it was worse in the 19th century, when the federal government paid people to kill all the wolves in the United States. So this issue is far from the worst environmental disaster in US history.

    • Jan Hruby says:

      If you remember wolves were delisted in 2011 during the Obama
      Administration. A rider was slipped into a must pass budget bill
      by John Tester, Democratic U.S. Senator from Montana. In order
      to get the votes he needed to win, he appeased the ranchers,
      cattlemen and wolf hating hunters. The states of Idaho and
      Montana and later Wyoming are incapable of responsible
      wolf management. It’s all about votes not principles or
      science during elections and our nations wildlife suffers for it.

  3. Marie says:

    This is unacceptable! All animals deserve to live naturally and be protected in their natural environment.

  4. Pam Westerhold says:

    I am really against wolf hunting for the benefit of trophy hunters which all this is. In MI we voted in 2014 against wolf hunting overwhelmingly. In 2013 there was a wolf hunt and 23 wolves were killed. We had a great petition drive. This was all done under a GOP, Gov Snyder. So remember where the cons stand on this. Horrible.

    • Jan Hruby says:

      I live in Grand Rapids, MI. and was one of the volunteers getting
      signatures for Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, twice. The positive
      response by our citizens was amazing. Yes, Snyder was our
      governor, he was good for business, but after thousands of calls
      to his office in defense on our wolves he ignored the voice of the
      people. MLive had an investigation going on for several months
      exposing the many false accusations of wolf haters.
      We need people to stop the delisting before it proceeds.

  5. marilyn boehm says:

    Is there anything we citizens can do to stop USFWS’ push to dismantle the Endangered Species Act? I feel so powerless against these agencies that are TASKED with protecting our wildlife being allowed to destroy it. How can we get the word out louder and stronger?

  6. Tatyana says:

    Aurelia skipwith is a typical trophy hunter. It is absolutely notbearable what she is doing to wolves and to endangered species

  7. The Animal Blog says:

    Ah, finally an article about this issue that actually cites sources. Thank you for doing so. I agree with most of what you’ve said but I have to throw this in there that what they’re proposing is to delist wolves nationwide, so this includes states where there are no wolf populations. It doesn’t make a difference to wolf populations if they are delisted in say, Tennessee, where they don’t exist. People make it sound like delisting them nationwide is going to be a huge issue when we really should be talking about it based on where the wolves actually are. For example, in Colorado they’ve recently confirmed a stable population so now they’re undergoing conservation discussions. For the record, I’m very against trophy hunting, especially of wolves, but I always want to point out that the ESA is already flawed because it protects wolves in states where they don’t need protection.

  8. Paula says:

    What can we do to help these magnificent animals? Is the job of this woman Aurleia Skipwith a position appointed by the president or an elected official?

  9. Chris vd Griend says:

    Animal abuse already brought us corona.How much longer will man challenge nature.Believe me,nature is patience but always takes revenge.Stop killing wolves and keep them federal protected!

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