April 28, 2022
On Feb. 10, Senior District Judge Jeffrey S. White, of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, ruled to return gray wolves to the endangered species list.
The decision comes less than two years after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) delisted the wolf throughout the lower 48 states, announcing that populations had successfully recovered to the point where management would be handled by state and tribal wildlife agencies.
In its ruling, the district court held that the USFWS cannot delist wolves nationally based on their recovery in two core population areas, the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountain regions. Consequently, any plans for hunting seasons to manage wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan—where the population has exceeded USFWS recovery goals for 20 years—are now on hold.
Wolf management in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho will continue to be those states’ responsibility, however, as the population in that region was previously delisted by Congress.
The decision is the result of suits brought forth by anti-hunting groups, says SCI, which intervened to defend the USFWS’ science-based delisting. SCI points out that although these groups acknowledge some populations of wolves have recovered, they seek to force the USFWS to restore wolves everywhere—from Maine to Washington. In its ruling the court has misinterpreted the Endangered Species Act (ESA), SCI notes, and raises the bar far too high for a recovered species to become delisted.
“With due respect, the judge’s decision is wrong,” says SCI CEO W. Laird Hamberlin. “It runs counter to Congress’ express intent in the ESA to conserve species to the point that they no longer need the ESA’s protections.”
There is one bright spot in the decision, SCI explains. The court agreed with arguments by SCI and the National Rifle Association with respect to state management of wolves and upheld the USFWS’ conclusion that state management does not pose a threat to wolf populations.
SCI will now pursue avenues of overturning the district court’s decision to relist wolves.—Adam Heggenstaller
This article was featured in the April issue of Game & Fish Magazine. Learn how to subscribe