By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
There was a mixed response from officials regarding the federal ruling on Thursday that exempted gray wolves in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana from an order that all other gray wolves in the country be relisted as an endangered species.
A federal court in California on Thursday restored endangered species protections for the gray wolf that were rolled back during the Trump administration.
Many conservation groups praised the decision overall, but still were concerned about what it could mean for the gray wolves managed by the three Western states.
“Whether under federal protection or managed by individual states, wolf populations thrive best in wild lands with adequate food, cover and tolerance from local human populations,” Grant Spickelmier, executive director of the International Wolf Center, told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.
Wolves in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho were delisted prior to the Trump administration’s decision. The Trump administration in 2020 removed endangered species protections for the wolves that had been in place for more than 45 years, saying populations of the animals had exceeded recovery goals.
The Center for Biological Diversity said it hoped the ruling would change the direction taken in the past by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This is a huge win for gray wolves and the many people across the country who care so deeply about them,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I hope this ruling finally convinces the Fish and Wildlife Service to abandon its longstanding, misguided efforts to remove federal wolf protections. The agency should work instead to restore these ecologically important top carnivores to places like the southern Rockies and northeastern United States.”
The Wyoming Farm Bureau questioned the need for relisting gray wolves at all.
“I understand that Wyoming’s management plan for wolves was not part of this decision, but this ruling affects a large number of other states,” Executive Director Ken Hamilton told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “Wolf numbers in areas like the upper Midwest have far exceeded scientifically established recovery numbers years ago.
“We are concerned that a judge in California didn’t uphold what the scientists at the USFWS concluded about wolves in the US. Unfortunately, people in the upper Midwest and much of the rest of the nation must now live with a decision made by a judge in California,” he concluded.
Although the judge’s ruling did not affect wolves in the northern Rockies, the Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that over the next year, it intends to review the status of the wolves to determine whether they should also return to the endangered species list.
That decision was criticized by Gov. Mark Gordon.
“(Interior) Secretary (Deb) Haaland’s decision is very disappointing and indicates a strong disconnect between Washington D.C and realities on the ground,” Gordon said Thursday.
“In Wyoming, wolves have been successfully managed by our state’s wildlife experts since regaining authority in 2017,” he said. “I firmly stand behind our state wolf management plan that has served as our guide to ensure a viable, healthy population for a species that has met all recovery criteria for nearly two decades.
“Managing Wyoming’s wildlife from Washington D.C is not a good model and is counter to the intent of the Endangered Species Act,” Gordon continued. “I urge the Secretary to ensure that the status review is grounded in science and recognizes the states’ strong track record effectively managing this species.”
The most recent count showed Wyoming had 327 gray wolves. At least 147 of those wolves reside within the wolf trophy game management area, where the Wyoming Game and Fish Department focuses its management efforts.
The wolf population for Yellowstone National Park is estimated at 123 and the Wind River Indian Reservation has around 21 wolves.