June 12, 2013

States will take on wolf management as feds propose delisting

By Brian T. Hodges Senior Attorney

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced that it proposes to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from protected status under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).  With wolf populations exceeding conservation goals year after year and state governments taking an increasingly active role in wolf management, the feds are stepping aside.

The long path leading to this point was marked by see-saw litigation resulting in the wolf being listed, delisted, and listed again.  The most recent proposal, however, breaks new ground because it is the result of a comprehensive evaluation of the gray wolf’s status nationwide.

In 2011, PLF filed a lawsuit demanding that the Service undertake a required status review for the gray wolf, which the Service listed as an endangered species throughout the lower 48 states in the 1970s.  PLF’s litigation revealed that the Service had never reviewed the wolf’s status since listing it, even though the ESA requires the Service to review the status of listed species at least once every five years.  The Service’s failure to review the wolf meant that the species had remained listed for about 30 years without the feds ever ensuring that the listing remained valid, even as new scientific data came to light and wolf numbers increased.  As a result of PLF’s litigation, the Service produced a status review in 2012 in which the Service promised to continue to evaluate the wolf because its ESA listing configuration was, admittedly, not “ideal.”

PLF also filed comments during the review period arguing that the Service should not carve out regional gray wolf populations for protection because that would require the Service to establish different groups among the same species that did not meet the regulatory requirements for such fragmentation.  The Service’s proposal delists the gray wolf on a species-wide basis and does not create new “distinct population segments.”

We continue to review the proposal, which has a comment deadline this fall.

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