Wolves: Delist or Not?

You have no doubt been witness to the wolf debate of the last couple months. On March 15 of this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued a proposed rule, with comments due by May 15. In summary, the rule states that the USFWS had “evaluated the classification status of gray wolves (Canis lupus) currently listed in the contiguous United States and Mexico under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). Based on our evaluation, we propose to remove the gray wolf from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. We propose this action because the best available scientific and commercial information indicates that the currently listed entities do not meet the definitions of a threatened species or endangered species under the Act due to recovery. The effect of this rulemaking action would be to remove the gray wolf from the Act’s protections. This proposed rule does not have any effect on the separate listing of the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) as endangered under the Act.” Many thousands of private individuals, organizations, and agency folks commented on the rule.

As you might expect, there has been no shortage of opinion and emotion in the recent discussion. Our Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) Director, Kelly Susewind, has favored the delisting, suggesting that to continue protecting a thriving wolf population “could expose the Endangered Species Act to legislation weakening protections for species in actual danger of extinction.” Oregon’s DFW Director, Curtis Melcher, wrote to USFWS officials on May 9, noting that his agency supports the delisting because the wolves no longer meet the definition of “endangered or threatened.” Oregon Governor Kate Brown nearly immediately slapped down Melcher’s statement, insisting that “it is critically important to maintain wide-ranging recovery areas for wolves across the West,” given that wolves pay little attention to state boundaries. At the center of the wide-ranging debate seems to be this: How much more help do wolves need?

So often, the arguments pit wolf supporters – who see wolves as an icon of wild places, and fear a wholesale slaughter if they are delisted – against ranchers, who simply fear the killing of livestock by out of control wolf numbers. These fears don’t really play out on the ground. In fact, in states where wolves are managed – and hunted – wolf populations are stable or growing. And the costs of wolf presence are far higher to ranchers from the constant harassment of wolves (leading to calves reaching market as much as 80 pounds lighter than normal and cows going into breeding in poorer shape than in the past) than from losses due to wolf depredation.

Given the polarized, emotional and over-simplified aspects of the debate, I thought we might check out The International Wolf Center of Ely, Minnesota ( Established in 1993, it “advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future.” The Wolf Center has a reputation for providing factual information to help folks make informed decisions about wolf issues, and seems to keep its pledge to offer up-to-date, accurate wolf information. Thus, the following questions/answers posted on the Wolf Center webpage, with pros and cons about the USFWS delisting proposals.

What would the proposed change NOT do? It would not remove protection from the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), [nor would it] affect the endangered status of red wolves (Canis rufus) in the Southeast, and recovery efforts for them will continue.

“Where would wolves NOT be affected? Wolves have already been delisted and are under state management in Idaho and Montana.

“Wasn’t the Endangered Species Act required to restore wolves to their entire historic range? The FWS says, ‘The Act does not require us to restore the gray wolf (or any other species) to all of its historical range or even to a majority of the currently suitable habitat. Instead, the Act requires that we recover listed species such that they…are no longer in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future. For some species, recovery may require expansion of their current distribution, but the amount of expansion is driven by a species’ biological needs affecting viability and sustainability, and not by an arbitrary percent of a species’ historical range or currently suitable habitat… There is no set formula for how recovery must be achieved.’ 50

“What are some commonly stated pro/con comments about the proposal?

PRO: Wolves are recovered, according to biological standards…with about 6,100 in areas of the U.S. where there is enough wild prey, good habitat and minimum road- and human-density.

CON: The Service’s portrayal of recovery disregards the full definition for threatened (any species likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range) and endangered (any species likely to become extinct within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range) species…. ‘Its range’ has to equate with ‘its historical range’ for the ESA to have the broad sweeping impact intended by Congress and for previous agency actions to have relevance to future agency actions.

PRO: As management for wolves passes to the states, wolves will still be protected so that their populations never dip below the numbers set in the ESA’s recovery plan.

CON: Where states have assumed management of wolves they have instituted or plan controversial recreational hunting and trapping seasons, that, for animal protectionists, seem to subvert the whole purpose of past wolf recovery efforts.”

Check out the Wolf Center ( for much more, or google “wolf delisting” for all you need to know.

Enjoy the debate!

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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