Biden Administration Flip-Flops on Gray Wolf Management

Biden Administration Flip-Flops on Gray Wolf Management

Just as it seemed that the Biden administration might do something right, it has managed to bumble its way into yet another fiasco of its own making.

We told you early last month how the administration announced it would stand by President Donald Trump’s decision to lift Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) removed gray wolves from the threatened species list in 2020, placing their management back in the hands of state wildlife agencies—right where it belongs.

Only a month ago, the Biden administration was in full agreement with that decision, even saying so in a court filing in a case in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California seeking to relist the species.

“This case should turn on the proper interpretation and application of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), not policy preferences on who should manage wolves,” the administration wrote. “Congress already answered that question: States and Tribes manage their resident wildlife, unless a species, subspecies or distinct population segment is threatened or endangered. The [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] Service here concluded that the listed gray wolf entities in the lower 48 states were neither a separate protectable species nor, based on the scientific evidence, threatened or endangered within the meaning of the ESA.”

Now, however, the administration has done a complete about face, with the Department of the Interior, which oversees the USFWS, announcing on Sept. 15 that it will review the ESA status of the American gray wolf in the western states.

“The Service finds the petitioners present substantial information that potential increases in human-caused mortality may pose a threat to the gray wolf in the western U.S.,” the USFWS noted in a Sept. 15 news release. “The Service also finds that new regulatory mechanisms in Idaho and Montana may be inadequate to address this threat. Therefore, the Service finds that gray wolves in the western U.S. may warrant listing.”

The sudden change has caused concern for all those who favor scientific management of gray wolves over a management plan based on politics and emotion. Michael Jean, director of the Office of Litigation Counsel for NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), is personally involved in the wolf lawsuits and handles legal issues on the hunting side for NRA-ILA.

“I don’t know what the Fish and Wildlife Service is doing here,” Jean said, regarding the reversal. “For decades, and as recently as last month, its position has been that these wolves are not threatened or endangered. Now, immediately after a group of plaintiffs challenging the Lower-48 delisting rule filed a brief in that case, Fish and Wildlife does a 180 and says that wolves in the western states may be threatened.”

Jean said that the sudden reversal not only represents bad science, but also brings up legitimate questions concerning the USFWS’s credibility.

“Whatever it decides to do, it’s going to be very hard for Fish and Wildlife to defend its position going forward,” he added.

The next step for the USFWS is to perform in-depth status reviews and analyses of gray wolf populations and management. If it finds that further review of the species’ status is unwarranted, then that is the end of the matter. However, if it finds that further review is warranted, it has until 12 months after it received the petition to fully review the species’ status and do one of three things: Determine that listing is not warranted, determine that listing is warranted and propose a listing rule, or determine that listing is warranted but is precluded by other factors. Both the 90-day finding and petition review form used by the USFWS in determining a review is warranted are available for public review.

Those interested in protecting big game populations and keeping gray wolf management in the hands of state wildlife agencies where it belongs following the species’ recovery can make their voices heard on the matter. Interested parties can submit relevant information to inform the in-depth status review through the website, Docket Number: FWS-HQ-ES-2021-0106.

About the Author
Freelance writer Mark Chesnut is the owner and editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC in Jenks, Okla. An avid hunter, shooter and field-trialer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for over 20 years, previously serving as editor of the NRA’s America’s First Freedom.