On October 29, 2020, the Trump Administration announced the removal of the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act list, ending federal protections for one of the first species safeguarded by the Act and placing the responsibility of overseeing the predators on states and tribes. The delisting would affect gray wolf populations in the lower 48 states.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt claimed that this removal was based on the “best scientific and commercial data available.” However, scientists that independently reviewed the proposal, which was issued in March 2019, raised concerns about lifting protections citing lack of scientific justification. Dr. Adrian Treves, one of the reviewers and Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the proposal did not accurately estimate how many wolves would be killed by people. Another reviewer, Dr. Carlos Carroll, an independent biologist with the Klamath Center for Conservation Research, said the proposal was “critically flawed” and ignored the importance of genetic variation in species. Drs. Treves and Carroll also published an article in BioScience rebutting the proposal. An upcoming BioScience Talks podcast, featuring the article’s authors, will be released on Wednesday, November 11.
Conservation groups have also criticized the rule. “Instead of pursuing further wolf recovery, the Fish and Wildlife Service has just adopted the broadest, most destructive delisting rule yet,” said Collette Adkins, Carnivore Conservation Director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Farmers and hunters welcomed the new rule, citing their ability to protect their livestock from the predators. “Producers have endured unacceptable personal stress, ongoing chronic confirmed and unconfirmed predation as well as loss of production in the cattle they work so hard to protect,” stated Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s Wolf Committee Co-Chair Roger Huffman.
Gray wolf protections have had a contentious standing, with the most recent attempt at delisting the species occurring during the Obama administration in 2013. A federal court order in 2014 eventually reinstated Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves after there was a sharp decline in their population due to hunting.
Parts of the nation have seen significant increases in gray wolf populations but the population remains absent from much of their historical range. The current delisting highlights the underlying disagreement on the scope of the Endangered Species Act itself; whether it should raise endangered species out of extinction or should they be restored until they occupy a significant role in their ecosystem.
The final rule delisting the gray wolf will go into effect on January 4, 2021. Environmental groups are planning to challenge the rule in the courts.