The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed taking the gray wolf off the federal Endangered Species List, saying it is no longer in danger of extinction, and replacing it with the Mexican wolf, a species under siege.
The move, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe in a teleconference with reporters, allows the agency to focus on the much more endangered Mexican wolf. (Related: Shooting of Mexican Gray Wolf Being Investigated by Federal Government)
Gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and the western Great Lakes are already out from under federal protection. Today’s announcement lifts the federal restrictions from all lower 48 states. The wolves will still be managed, Ashe said, but the states will do it. Tribes are also important in these efforts, he said. (Related: Proposed Settlement Would De-List Idaho, Montana Gray Wolves)
Working with state partners in Arizona and New Mexico, “our goal is to reinvigorate our Mexican wolf recovery program,” Ashe said. “No one is suggesting” that gray wolves require less protection, but the question is whether they still require federal protection, he added.
Tribal input will be key during both the gray wolf’s transition away from federal management and the Mexican wolf’s continued regeneration, Ashe said.
“We have worked historically through the reintroduction and recovery effort with tribes, and our principal partner is the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho,” he said. “In fact, during key juncture in the recovery effort, when the State of Idaho was not participating—government and political leaders had prohibited the state fish and game agency from participating—the Nez Perce Tribe played a critical role with us and was really a vital partner in the early stages.”
“Regarding the Mexican Wolf, the White Mountain Apache have been a key partner so far to recover the Mexican Wolf,” he said, “and tribal partners will be increasingly important in the Southwest as we reinvigorate our efforts to recover the Mexican wolf.”
The dual move reflects the fact that the federal government has fulfilled its responsibility under the Endangered Species Act, which turns 40 this year, to ensure that “the gray wolf is going to remain a part of the landscape of our nation and for future generations of Americans,” Ashe said. The gray wolf population has grown from a few hundred in the early 2000s to :at least 6,100 gray wolves in the contiguous United States, with a current estimate of 1,674 in the Northern Rocky Mountains and 4,432 in the Western Great Lakes," according to the Fish and Wildlife Service on its website.
“About this time next year we should be talking about a final proposal,” he said. The clock on a 90-day public comment period begins on June 7, after which the Fish and Wildlife Service will evaluate the results and come up with a determination and a plan.
The wolves have been considered endangered for the entire tenure of the protection law. Ashe admitted the government had “persecuted” the animals before they were listed for protection—hunting them from the air, gassing them in their dens and poisoning them in the wild. But in 1995, wildlife officials had released a few dozen wolves into Yellowstone National Park and in Idaho, and today there are more than 1,700 in that region alone, he said.