California Judge Restores Federal Protection For Gray Wolves

California Judge Restores Federal Protection For Gray Wolves

Yesterday’s decision by a federal judge in California to restore federal protection for gray wolves across much of the United States is a setback for scientific wildlife management and a victory for those who wish to see the species managed based on emotion and politics.

In his ruling, U. S. District Judge Jeffery White said the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has not shown that wolf populations can be sustained in the Midwest and parts of the West without protection under the Endangered Species Act. The ruling does not apply to wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, where populations remain under state management, and in New Mexico, where wolves are already protected.

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. The National Rifle Association has been fighting since then to keep wolves under the scientific management of state wildlife officials, rather than under a management plan based largely on politics and emotion.

“The NRA is disappointed with the court’s ruling to restore federal protections for long-since-recovered gray wolf populations and will continue fighting to see the species’ management returned to the states where it belongs,” said Michael Jean, director of the Office of Litigation Counsel for NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), who has worked on the lawsuit directly on behalf of the NRA and its 5 million members. “Though wildlife biologists and other wildlife management professionals declared the gray wolf to be recovered for over a decade—a move that should have been celebrated—courts have ignored the fact that wolf populations have exceeded recovery goals and keep relisting the species.”

In tracking the issue, in May 2021 this website reported that a federal judge in California had granted the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Safari Club International (SCI) their motions to intervene in three anti-hunting lawsuits challenging the delisting of recovered gray wolf populations under the Trump administration. The two groups went on to argue that the California court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case and that the plaintiffs had not shown how their members were injured by the wolf delisting. The anti-hunting suits were filed in the Northern District of California, though the suit has no impact on California wolves, which remained protected under state law. Nevertheless, the court handed down its decision this week restoring federal protection.

Interestingly, just last September the Biden administration stood with President Trump’s decision to delist the species. At the time, the administration wrote: “This case should turn on the proper interpretation and application of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), not policy preferences on who should manage wolves. 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.”

Only a few weeks later, however, the Biden administration flip-flopped on the issue, with the Department of the Interior announcing on Sept. 15 that it would review the ESA status of the American gray wolf in the western states.

For just one example of how gray wolf populations are thriving in the Lower 48, simply look at the state of Wisconsin. Last February, reported that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources opened a weeklong wolf season on Feb. 22, but closed it 48 hours later because the wolf quota was already met.

The recent ruling left many in areas with burgeoning wolf populations—and corresponding increasing wolf problems—disappointed and worried about the future.

“It’s really frustrating and outrageous that some judge thousands of miles away is suddenly telling us that our own scientific management of the species can’t be trusted,” Sen. Ed McBroom, a state senator from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, told the Associated Press. “They’re simply forcing citizens to take matters into their own hands.”

About the Author
Freelance writer Mark Chesnut is the owner/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.