In fantastic news for our country’s beloved canine, a U.S. District Court in Northern California restored protections for gray wolves (Canis lupus) across most of the contiguous United States on February 10, 2022. This decision reverses the 2020 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule made under the Trump Administration that stripped federal protections for gray wolves by removing them from the federal list of Endangered and Threatened Species in the lower 48 United States and Mexico. This new decision reestablishes federal protections for the species in the Central and Southern Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes region, and West Coast states and immediately puts an end to wolf hunting and trapping (outside the Northern Rockies).
Thanks to the hard work of Earthjustice (representing multiple environmental groups) and others, multiple cases against this rule came to light in 2021. Judge Jeffrey White agreed with the plaintiffs by concluding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not examine gray wolf habitat and history in the country as a whole. These re-added protections are critical in light of alarmingly high hunting rates of the species in many states. For example, in 2021 almost 500 gray wolves were killed in Idaho alone—representing a third of the state’s population.
But why has the Trump Administration (and for many years in our country’s history, the majority of the nation) persecuted the gray wolf? The biggest arguments for eradicating the species come from those concerned with human safety and livestock depletion. Indeed, gray wolves have proved problematic at times for farmers and livestock owners, especially in areas where natural habitat and natural prey have been reduced significantly. However, government studies have shown that the predation numbers are negligible and far from warranting such extreme anti-species action.
Despite hundreds of years of persecution, the last fifty or so have shown remarkable success in bringing back this canine predator. The story of the gray wolf’s recovery in Yellowstone National Park is perhaps the United States’s greatest conservation tale. By the 1970s, wolves had been driven from the park and its surrounding region entirely. However, since the species was meticulously reintroduced into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in 1995, the entire ecosystem has flourished. Beaver populations increased from one to nine, elk herds have become more resilient, and vegetation of all types has thrived. This is a reminder of the importance of preserving apex predator populations in order to protect our country’s most wild and diverse regions.
Despite the amazing success story of Yellowstone, wolves are not an easy species to reintroduce. Their complex social hierarchies, need for large home ranges, and competition with humans for food resources make them extremely restricted in where and how they can thrive. Proper expanses of gray wolf habitat in the United States are few and far between and if we lose a population in one of these, we may never see them recover. This decision ensures that gray wolves are given the protections they need to survive an already difficult landscape without additional hunting pressure from lobbyists and special interests groups.
Not only is this court decision a critical step in protecting one of America’s most intriguing predators, but it is an important step in striking down the Trump Administration’s unsubstantiated attacks on wildlife and endangered and threatened species. Over their four year term, the Trump Administration slashed and destroyed many important wildlife and environmental protections. From constructing a border wall in wildlife refuges to reviving controversial and banned hunting techniques (such as bear baiting and targeting young cubs), his Administration proved a terrible blow for America’s animals.
This court decision to reverse the Trump Administration’s attack on gray wolves and restore critical protections for the species is critical and necessary if we are going to protect the wildlife and wild places of our nation. Thanks to the dedication of groups like Earthjustice, we are seeing victories like this ruling, as well as restored protections for the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans and halted trophy hunts on grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Protecting our ecosystems, wild places, and wild species that live there is critical to the health and success of the American people.
Conservationists, nature-lovers and citizens across the United States breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing that the charismatic gray wolf is once again afforded protections they need under the Endangered Species Act this month. Still, there is much more to be done to reverse the Trump Administration’s damage and increase protections for critical species. From honeybees to sharks, members of the entire animal kingdom remain at risk from not only climate change and habitat loss but the attack of political parties. Environmental and conservation groups continue to work towards reversing some of the Trump Administration’s deadly decisions and this victory provides a shining example of making things right for America’s wildlife.
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Photo: Milo Weiler via Unsplash