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Gray wolves losing status?
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes ending federal protections for gray wolves
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced its proposal to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species List.
“The gray wolf no longer faces extinction nor requires use of the Endangered Species Act. This is the next step forward in wolf conservation,” said the agency’s Director Dan Ashe in a conference call June 7.
When the federal process is complete in approximately a year, wolf management will be entirely in the hands of individual states.
Wolves in Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon were delisted from the federal Endangered Species Act by Congress in April 2011, and are protected under state laws. Wolves found in the western side of the states will continue to be federally protected until the agency completes its delisting process.
“It’s been a complex, contentious and polarizing issue following a century-long campaign of human persecution,” Ashe said. “Their recovery is a remarkable success in wildlife. The wrangling underscores how unlikely this recovery was.”
Ashe described the Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountain populations, from which wolves in Oregon have dispersed, as robust, with more than 6,100 gray wolves in the lower 48 states. He said he expects to see wolves in California, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and the Dakotas in the coming years and called on those states to prepare management plans.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife manages wolves in Eastern Oregon and when the federal proposal is final, will oversee them across the entire state.
“If it moves forward and is approved it would turn management over to us — right now it’s just being proposed,” Wildlife Division Director Ron Anglin said. “They have to follow their federal rules for the delisting process.”
Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild said he thinks the agency is moving too quickly.
“I think this is the sort of news that conservationists would celebrate like when gray whales and eagles were delisted, but it seems pretty premature — what it seems like is what is really happening is the agency wants to wipe its hands clean of the political headache of dealing with wolves. With only one known wolf in Western Oregon it’s hard to argue that that’s a recovered population.”
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association applauds the decision.
“I’m all for it. It puts us closer to managing wolves across the state,” Rod Childers, the association’s wolf committee chairman, said.
With 51 documented wolves in Washington and 45 in Oregon, the gray wolf is growing in number and geography. Ashe said wolves in the Pacific Northwest are protected by the “science-driven management plans in place.”
“Gray wolves do need management protection, but not under federal protection — the ongoing monitoring of the gray wolf will ensure that the gray wolf will be a part of the landscape for future generations of Americans,” Ashe said.
He said that though wolves do not inhabit all of the territory they did before they were extirpated, including heavily populated areas like Denver, Salt Lake City and Seattle, genetically the populations across the northern region of the West is “very robust,” a key indicator in the decision to remove them from protected status.
“Are they threatened with extinction? No. That’s where we are with the wolf — that’s the question we have to ask with listing and delisting,” Ashe said.
Addressing concerns that states won’t protect wolves as diligently as the federal government, Ashe said his agency has no indication that the states will overharvest wolves.
“To this point they have been professional and followed their management plans,” he said. “With the public interest in wolves — if the states were to overharvest, I’m sure that will be brought to the attention of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
With gray wolves no longer needing protection, Ashe said there will be a 90-day public comment period followed by a period of analysis by the fish and wildlife service.
“It would be our goal to have a final proposal within one year,” Ashe said.
The agency will now focus its wolf recovery efforts on the Mexican wolf, which is listed as a distinct, separate species, and will work closely with Arizona and New Mexico, part of the wolf’s U.S. range.
Ashe said the agency has historically worked with Native American tribes in its effort to recover wolves in the U.S., particularly the Nez Perce, which stepped in to write a management plan when Idaho’s governor and Legislature refused to allow the state’s fish and game to be involved. He said similarly, the agency will work with the White Mountain Apache tribe in its effort to recover Mexican wolves.
Ashe said when efforts to recover the Mexican wolf began there were only seven left on the planet.
“Managing inbreeding is a great challenge. Another is the management of those wolves in and around livestock,” Ashe said. “In the northern communities you have calving once a year. In the south, you have calving all year long, leaving young animals more vulnerable. We are working with agricultural communities to develop acceptance and how to deal with problem wolves.”