The federal government is preparing to stop protecting gray wolves in the lower 48 states, according to a draft document.
News of the government’s plans was first reported by The Los Angeles Times.. The draft document describing the government’s intentions was subsequently obtained by other media, including EarthFix.
The government’s consideration of a blanket delisting of the gray wolf comes as wolf populations in the Northwest states are either growing or holding fairly steady, despite reduced protections.
Wolves in Idaho, the eastern one-thirds of Oregon and Washington, and other parts of the West were taken off the federal endangered species list last year.
The impending decision isn’t a complete surprise. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had indicated earlier its intentions to announce this spring whether it will propose a blanket delisting of wolves in the lower 48 states.
Still, conservation leaders expressed dismay at the news.
“The really sad thing here is that the Obama administration is giving up on wolf recovery before the job is done,” said Don Barry of Defenders of Wildlife. He said the move could preclude the return of wolves to Utah, Colorado and California.
“It could also really short-circuit wolf recovery in the Pacific Northwest, where you have just small little pockets of wovlves that have moved into … those two states,” Barry added, referring to Washington and Oregon.
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Current distribution of gray wolves
Light gray: historic range; Dark gray: currently occupied range. The marker “1” indicates location of packs in Washington outside of those ranges. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service draft document.
Idaho’s wolf population was 683 last year, down from 746 in 2011. That dip reflects the initial effects of a controversial wolf-hunting season in Idaho. The 2011-12 season saw nearly 400 Idaho wolves killed by hunters or trappers.
The Washington wolf population rose from 27 in 2011 to 51 last year. In March, a new wolf pack was confirmed in Washington, bringing the state’s total number of packs to 10.
Oregon’s 2012 wolf count tallied 45, up from 29 in 2011. Two new wolf packs formed in Oregon last year. That brings the state’s total to six packs.
The draft document calls for continued legal protection for Mexican wolves in the Southwest, which would be classified as a separate subspecies and added to the federal list of endangered species.
Last year there were at least 1,674 wolves in the United states, with 321 packs and 103 breeding pairs, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The wolf population in the western United States was wiped out by 1930.
The Endangered Species Act, passed in 1973, led to the species’ legal protection that year. Wolves from Canada began to successfully recolonize Montana in 1986 and a decade later, wolves were reintroduced to Central Idaho and Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.
By 2012, wolves in Idaho, Montana, and other parts of the Rocky Mountain West were taken off the federal Endangered Species Act; these states were given authority to manage the species.
That same year, Oregon’s wolf killing program was put on a court-ordered hold. In Washington, wildlife officials had an entire pack killed off after persistent reports of livestock predation in the state’s northeastern corner.