Science & Environment

Trump administration removes wolves’ protections as conservation groups plan a challenge

By Monica Samayoa (OPB)
Oct. 29, 2020 9:02 p.m. Updated: Oct. 30, 2020 1:16 a.m.

The Trump administration removed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in all 48 contiguous states.

The Trump administration has removed federal protections for gray wolves in most of the United States on Thursday, leaving it to individual states and tribes to decide the fate of the species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife announced the end of Endangered Species Act protections for Gray wolves in the lower 48 states, after spending 46 years under federal protection.


The agency said it relied on the best scientific data available to conclude that wolves have recovered from the threat of extinction.

“After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt said in a prepared statement. “Today’s announcement simply reflects the determination that this species is neither a threatened nor endangered species based on the specific factors Congress has laid out in the law.”

The fate of the species now lies within each individual state and tribal governments to decide whether to continue to protect the species or allow for hunting and trapping. A small group of Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico are exempted from the new rule.

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According to the most recent U.S. government data, there are 108 wolves in Washington state, 158 in Oregon, and 15 in California. The largest population, 4,400 gray wolves, inhabits the western Great Lakes states.

Oregon dropped its own endangered-species protections for wolves in 2015. It had been relying on federal protections for the western two-thirds of the state and has its own management plan for the easternmost third.

A spokesperson for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said that federal protection was an important factor in how Oregon’s wolf recovery plan is designed. The aide, Charles Boyle, said the Oregon plan is based on science and is working well for both ranchers and bringing back Oregon’s wolf population.

“The timing of these proposed changes to federal wolf protections is suspect, and needlessly politicizes this issue,” Boyle said in an emailed statement. “Our wolf recovery plan is working in Oregon— we don’t need the federal administration to fix something that isn’t broken.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, applauded the decision, saying it will provide a much-needed relief for ranchers by enabling them to prevent livestock from being targeted by wolves. Walden has been a longtime advocate for taking away endangered species protections from gray wolves and returning authority over the species to the individual states.

Two adult wolves from the Walla Walla Pack were caught on a remote trail camera Jan. 16, 2016, in Umatilla County, Oregon. Extreme weather in northeast Oregon this winter has disrupted surveys of area wolfpacks.

Two adult wolves from the Walla Walla Pack were caught on a remote trail camera Jan. 16, 2016, in Umatilla County, Oregon. Extreme weather in northeast Oregon this winter has disrupted surveys of area wolfpacks.

Courtesy of Oregon department of Fish and Wildlife

“Wolves continue to kill livestock in the area under federal management, with little recourse for local ranchers,” Walden said. “This move will allow our state wildlife officials to manage the wolves more effectively by allowing for a single management plan under local control.”

Several conservation and environmental groups said the delisting is a setback for recovery efforts in the Western part of the United States and plan to challenge the decision. They also said the delisting is unscientific and the USFWS ignored crucial data that the wolf has not recovered in the Western part of the United States.

Related: Oregon Wolf Population Up, But Famous OR-7 May Have Died

Oregon Wild’s Wildlife Coordinator Danielle Moser said in the western part of Oregon there are only three known wolf packs — not enough to call wolves recovered in this part of their historic range..

“Our wolf population has been on a steady increase in Oregon, but it’s nowhere near our actual carrying capacity for the species is for the state,” Moser said. “That’s the same for Washington and California, as well.”

Without federal protections for gray wolves, the species' fate in Oregon is largely up to the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, Moser said. And the possibility that wolf hunting and trapping could be approved or expanded in Oregon puts the wolves' future here in question.

Other conservation groups like the Center for Biological Diversity’s Carnivore Conservation Director Collette Adkins said the courts have once again prematurely rejected the protections for the wolf again.

“Instead of pursuing further wolf recovery, the Fish and Wildlife Service has just adopted the broadest, most destructive delisting rule yet. The courts recognize, even if the feds don’t, that the Endangered Species Act requires real wolf recovery, including in the southern Rockies and other places with ideal wolf habitat.”

The organization also said the removal of federal protections is against public opinion. In 2019, the USFWS received 1.8 million digital comments opposing the removal for protections.

“Given that gray wolves in the lower 48 states occupy a fraction of their historical and currently available habitat, the Fish and Wildlife Service determining they are successfully recovered does not pass the straight-face test,” Western Environmental Law Center Attorney John Mellgren said. “On its face, this appears to be politically motivated. While the Trump administration may believe it can disregard science, the law does not support such a stance. We look forward to having a court hear our science-based arguments for why wolves desperately need Endangered Species Act protections to fully recover.”

The rule is set to take effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.