Fish and Wildlife denies petition to reclassify gray wolves as ‘threatened’

The Wisconsin Gazette

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on June 30 denied a petition from 22 conservation and animal welfare groups to reclassify nearly all gray wolves in the lower 48 states as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act — a step that would continue federal oversight and funding for wolf recovery and encourage the development of a national recovery plan.

The reclassification would also have given the Fish and Wildlife Service flexibility to permit state and local wildlife managers to address specific wolf conflicts, according to the petitioners.

Michael Markarian, chief program and policy officer of The Humane Society of the United States, said, “We are disappointed in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision not to consider this middle-ground approach to wolf management. A threatened listing is a reasonable compromise to this contentious issue and it retains some federal protection for wolves, while providing more flexibility to the states in dealing with the occasional problem wolf.”

The agency denied the request, saying the wolves in the petition didn’t constitute a “distinct population segment,” even though they’ve been classified that way since 1978.

“These wolves deserve a real shot at full recovery across the country and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is doing its best to make sure that never happens,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Service’s claim that wolves don’t constitute a distinct population is ludicrous and totally belied by the fact they’ve been considered distinct in the lower 48 for more than three decades.”

Gray wolves are currently protected as endangered throughout their range in the lower 48 states, except in Minnesota, where they are listed as threatened, and Montana, Idaho, eastern Oregon and Washington, where they have no Endangered Species Act protections.

Some members of Congress are pushing legislation to remove all Endangered Species Act protections for wolves.

The reclassification petition filed by conservation groups in January proposed an alternative path to finalizing wolf recovery based on the best available science rather than politics.

“Sadly the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seems content to let politicians in Congress, rather than scientists, decide the future of wolf recovery in the United States,” Greenwald said. “Denying the petition to reclassify wolves is yet another sign this agency is hoping to wash its hands of wolf recovery and leave the job unfinished forever.”

Markarian said, “We need practical solutions, not to turn back the clock to the days of widespread hound hunting, baiting and trapping of hundreds of wolves in states with hostile and reckless wolf management policies.”