The debate in the U.S. House of Representatives over the “Manage Our Wolves Act” (H.R. 6784) on Friday Nov. 16 came down to one central question: Should we allow lawsuits on the federal level to continue to dominate issues related to wolves?
“History has proven that states manage wildlife far better than the federal government,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action. “Today’s action by the House of Representatives will ensure that state fish and game professionals will manage gray wolf populations rather than bureaucrats in Washington. This is a win-win for wildlife conservation and hunting alike. I commend the House for its action on this important issue.”
If passed by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Donald J. Trump, this legislation would give state wildlife agencies the freedom to manage wolves on the local level in the entirety of the lower 48. It would do this by stopping radical anti-hunting environmentalists from continuing to file lawsuits in federal courts that are then used by left-leaning judges to stymie efforts to allow local control of these recovered populations of wolves. Anti-hunting groups, for example, got a judge to halt the killing of wolves that were continually taking livestock in the eastern portion of Washington State.
This is what biologists in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have been asking for since at least the Obama administration. Gray wolf populations in the Upper Midwest and the northern Rockies have far exceeded population goals established under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection for them to be delisted, yet environmentalists have continuously refused to let the law work.
“This bill is exactly what can save the Endangered Species Act,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) during debate before the vote. He then made the point that if the ESA isn’t allowed to have successes, and therefore to delist recovered species when those species surpass established goals, then people won’t trust the process. If the ESA is only a federal tool for restricting property rights, impeding game management and more, then people will continue to lose faith in the law (many already have). This then politicizes a process that should be based on sound scientific reasoning on the local level.
“This underscores the extent to which the Fish and Wildlife Service has been hamstrung in implementing the objectives of the Endangered Species Act,” said Westernman, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee’s oversight panel. “Rather than spend its limited resources protecting vulnerable species, litigation activists have forced the agency to continuously defend every action. In this case, despite scientific evidence collected by multiple administrations on both sides of the aisle showing that the gray wolf populations have recovered and thrived, the agency remains bogged down in costly, never-ending litigation.”
Those opposed to this legislation can’t argue that wolf populations haven’t met population goals, as they clearly have, so they’ve instead argued that wolves need continued ESA protections because wolf populations are still a fraction of what they are thought to have been in pre-colonial America.
“[Wolves] still inhabit just a fraction of their historic range, and continued protection under the Endangered Species Act is necessary,” said Rep. Don Beyer (Va.), the top Democrat on the Natural Resources oversight subpanel. (Beyer will likely chair the committee in January when the Democrats will have the majority in the House.)
Ranchers, hunters, dog owners (wolves kill a lot of dogs for predatory and territorial reasons) and more hear these arguments and wonder what world these far-left Democrats think they’re living in. All the states want to do is to manage, not eradicate, wolves.
Anti-hunting groups, like Defenders of Wildlife, even as they distort the facts, do at least understand what this legislation would do. “If H.R. 6784 passes, it will also block judicial review of the decision to delist these wolves. Americans’ hands would be tied in seeking justice as hostile states decide for themselves how to manage wolves. And in states where they’ve already lost protection, thousands of wolves have been killed,” Defenders noted.
This is fearmongering, not an objective look at the future of the wolf. States can’t eradicate statewide wolf populations. Groups like Defenders won’t admit that wolves have met and exceeded population goals and that wolf populations have continued to expand since hunting and trapping have been used in some states, such as in Montana and Idaho, to manage their populations. If the wolf populations were to fall below certain levels it would again trigger USFWS involvement and possible ESA protections.
The gray wolf was listed as “endangered” in 1974. At that time a few hundred wild gray wolves remained in Michigan and Minnesota. The Clinton administration then controversially set Canadian gray wolves loose in the northern Rockies in 1995. At that time the introduced wolves were classified as “threatened.” Wolf populations quickly grew and surpassed goals set for their recovery as elk and other game populations plummeted in parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
When the USFWS moved to delist wolves in areas that exceeded wolf population goals, so that hunting and trapping, for example, could be used as cost-effective tools by game managers, anti-hunting groups kept filing lawsuits as they looked for activist judges to prevent wolf management—something they are still doing today.
Meanwhile, the USFWS now estimates there are about 7,700-11,200 wolves in Alaska, about 3,765 in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin and about 1,782 in the northern Rockies, with many more in Canada. Wolves are also on the move as they continue to populate new areas in Rocky Mountain states.
All of this has impacted hunting outfitters, hunters, ranchers and many other interest groups that live in the rural West. The Manage Our Wolves Act, if passed by the Senate and signed by the President, would simply allow the states with gray wolf populations to enact policies designed to protect wolf populations while also reducing livestock kills, protecting vulnerable big-game species from over-predation, and more. These wolf-management decisions would still be affected by elected officials, but on the state, not federal level.