By Athena Chan
- Gray wolves had to bounce back from being on the brink of extinction
- Gray wolf numbers significantly increased after they were placed under federal protection
- Efforts are being made to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list
- Wildlife groups are opposing the move to remove gray wolf protection
Gray wolves have been protected under the Endangered Species Act for years. Now that their numbers have risen, efforts are being made to remove the species from the endangered species list and, the move is naturally facing opposition from wildlife protection groups.
Delisting Gray Wolves
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as several lawmakers, have been making efforts to remove gray wolves’ endangered species status for a while now. In fact, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been trying to have the species delisted for years given that their numbers have soared to an estimated 6,000.
According to Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-MN), one of the lawmakers who passed the legislation to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list, gray wolf populations have already reached sustainable levels and the legislation will allow livestock owners to protect their livelihood.
Specifically, the American Wild Game and Livestock Protection Act would delist the gray wolf and leave the states with the ability to make their own rules regarding the hunting and culling of gray wolves.
However, the move is being blocked by various wildlife groups who believe the delisting is premature and that having the wolves recover in just a few areas is not enough to say that they have been amply protected.
Further, wildlife groups are concerned that removing the federal protections from gray wolves and placing them back in the care of the states could open up trophy hunting and trapping. In this matter, states have argued that the revenue from trophy hunting also goes back to support wildlife protection and habitat.
In response to the opposition against delisting gray wolves, the Fish and Wildlife Service explained that the Endangered Species Act is not meant to permanently protect animals from hunting. Instead, it is designed to prevent the extinction of species and help them recover. Once this has been met, the federal protection can be retracted and management will be returned to state agencies.
The debate about whether to retain or remove gray wolves from the endangered species list opens up the question of exactly what makes an endangered species amply recovered.
As for the gray wolves, they had to bounce back from the brink of extinction by the early 20th century after government-sponsored predator control programs nearly eradicated the species in the lower 48 states. When they were finally placed under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, only a few hundred remained in Minnesota and even smaller numbers remained in other areas.
Today, with the help of the Endangered Species Act, gray wolves have made a comeback and their numbers have significantly increased since their reintroduction in 1995. Under the IUCN Red List, gray wolves are of “least concern” with a stable population trend.
If the species ends up being removed from the endangered species list, perhaps the state of their recovery will largely depend on how people in the places where gray wolves reside will act, particularly since human-related activity remains to be the species’ top threats.