By Eli Francovich
The U.S. House of Representatives will vote Friday on whether to delist gray wolves.
If approved, the “Manage Our Wolves Act” would remove gray wolves from the federal Endangered Species List. It would also prohibit federal judicial review of the legislation.
The law would not affect the status of the Mexican gray wolf.
Sponsors of the bill, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Rep. Dan Newhouse, both R-Wash., say wolves have recovered to a point that they no longer need federal protection. Opponents of the bill say the apex predator still needs protections and the law would set a dangerous precedent in which politicians make decisions best reserved for scientists.
“Obviously we strongly oppose measures that would politically chip away support for the endangered species act,” said Robert Dewey, vice president for government relations for Defenders of Wildlife. “But also substantively it would impact wolves that still enjoy protections under the ESA.”
Fifty other conservation groups authored a letter opposing the bill, including Earthjustice Eastern Washington Wolf Coalition, the Sierra Club and the Humane Society.
Conservation Northwest also opposes the bill.
In a statement, the National Wildlife Federation signaled support for delisting wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. However, the federation called the legislation as a whole “too broad.”
Conservation Northwest is a chapter of the National Wildlife Federation.
Defenders of Wildlife’s Dewey sees the bill as a larger trend under President Donald Trump’s administration to delist federally endangered species. In January, the federal government took the first steps toward delisting the Canada lynx.
McMorris Rodgers, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, wrote a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in June urging him to pursue delisting gray wolves nationwide.
“(I)ncompatibility between the Washington state management plan and the federal management plan creates a bureaucratic nightmare that leaves communities in Eastern Washington unable to defend themselves against increasing wolf attacks and livestock depredations,” she wrote.
Wolves are not federally listed as an endangered species in the eastern third of Washington. Wolves are federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state. The majority of Washington’s wolves live in that eastern third.
Nor are wolves federally protected in Idaho. That’s because in 2008, the Obama administration delisted the Rocky Mountain wolf population.
“You know, it really kind of has no bearing,” said Jay Shepherd, the wolf program lead for Conservation Northwest, referring to the proposed law’s impact on Washington’s wolves. “The Rocky Mountain population … at the ecosystem level is stable. And it’s robust. And it’s not threatened or endangered with extinction.”
A minimum of 122 wolves, 22 packs and 14 successful breeding pairs was reported by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife this winter.
As of 2015, Idaho had roughly 790 wolves in 108 packs.
Wolves are also delisted in Montana, Wyoming, Eastern Oregon and part of Utah.
McMorris Rodgers is expected to speak Friday morning on the House floor in support of the bill. The vote is expected to occur in the morning.