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Future of Wolf Management

April 2021
Author: Brett Stayton, SCI Communications Manager

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued an official statement citing scientific support for its 2020 decision to remove gray wolves throughout the lower 48 states from federal protection under the
Endangered Species Act. Nevertheless, as the Department of the Interior transitions to new leadership, the status of gray wolves may come back into question.

Wolves are certainly no longer at risk of extinction in the wild. Although there may be opportunities for expansion and growth of wolf populations in some states, the species has blown past the recovery criteria established when they were first listed under the ESA. Keeping gray wolves off the endangered species list once and for all represents a celebration of the species’ remarkable comeback.

Acknowledging the successful recovery of wolves is one of the few things on which both the Obama and Trump Administrations agreed. The Bush Administration was on the same page, too. Only time will tell which direction the Biden team will go on the issue.

Previous delisting efforts have historically been thwarted by lawsuits filed by anti-hunting groups that often fundraise off misconceptions about wolf management. After all, it would be difficult to fundraise with the premise of "Saving America’s Wolves” while also admitting that America’s wolves have already been saved. Science be damned, no number of wolves will ever be enough for some.

While SCI celebrated the species’ remarkable recovery, other organizations announced their intent to file lawsuits to challenge delisting. In January, three lawsuits, with multiple plaintiff organizations, were filed in federal court in California. This was no surprise. SCI’s lawyers are working with the NRA’s attorneys to jointly intervene in all three cases in support of science-based wildlife management. Until the Biden Administration’s nominees to lead the federal agencies responsible for wolf management are confirmed by the Senate, no one can be sure whether the federal government intends to defend the delisting in court. However, the Service’s response defending the delisting and relying on the science in support of wolf recovery is a positive sign.

SCI and the NRA intend to ensure the court focuses on the science and legality of the delisting and avoids a decision based on politics and public relations. Gray wolves simply do not meet the criteria for an endangered or threatened species. We intend to reinforce this point for the court, as well as the court of public opinion.

If the delisting stands up in court (as it should), that victory will represent good news for wolf management. Science and logic should be the governing principles when it comes to future management of one of America’s most iconic species.