By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
Wolves in the Northern Rockies may warrant federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week, largely because of extreme wolf-killing laws recently passed in Idaho and Montana. The agency’s decision comes in response to a legal petition the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund filed, in coalition with other conservation organizations, in May.
This promising progress gives us some hope that much-needed protections are on their way for these imperiled animals. The FWS will now begin a formal review process—collecting scientific and other information about the threats these wolves face—to determine whether to extend endangered species protections to wolves in western states. The no-holds-barred wolf slaughter sanctioned by Idaho and Montana make clear that this federal protection is essential to gray wolves’ survival in the region.
Wolves in these states have been subjected to increasingly aggressive killing since they lost their federal protections in 2011. In May, Idaho’s legislature passed a law that allows the state to hire private contractors to kill up to 90% of the state’s wolf population. The law also allows individual trophy hunters and trappers to kill as many wolves as they want using the most egregious methods, running them down with all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles and hunting them using bait and hounds. Wolf trapping is also now permitted year-round on private lands. And outside of the extreme suffering this causes ensnared wolves, such indiscriminate methods also put pets and other wild animals at risk of getting maimed or killed by traps.
Recent changes in Montana’s laws mean that about 85% of the state’s wolves are now in danger of being killed. New laws there allow the use of strangulation snares and the use of bait to hunt and trap wolves, as well as permitting night hunting. Another law brings back what is essentially a wolf bounty system that incentivizes hunters to kill wolves by reimbursing them for their costs. And while the state previously set strict quotas in areas bordering Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park to limit the killing of the wolves who live in and around these iconic natural landmarks, these quotas have now been eliminated. In short, Idaho and Montana have now joined Wyoming in allowing what amounts to unlimited and unregulated killing of wolves.
While the FWS’s determination that these destructive new laws may require federal intervention is an important step, it’s not fast enough. Wolves in Idaho and Montana are under attack right now. Idaho’s new law took effect on July 1, and Montana’s general wolf hunting season began on September 15. Wolves simply cannot afford to suffer through months of wanton slaughter while the FWS completes its review. That’s why our petition asked the agency to immediately restore endangered species protections to wolves in the region on an emergency basis.
We’re not alone in our view that emergency protection is necessary to ensure gray wolves’ survival. Dozens of American Indian tribes asked the Biden administration to restore protections on an emergency basis in the face of these virulently anti-wolf policies. Similarly, more than 50 conservation organizations sent a letter in support of our petition, urging the FWS to immediately protect wolves. And even Dan Ashe—who originally supported delisting wolves from endangered species protections back when he was President Obama’s FWS director—said Idaho and Montana’s laws amount to “ecocide.” He too is calling on the agency he once led to restore endangered species protections on an emergency basis.
Disappointingly, the FWS hasn’t yet heeded these calls. But we won’t give up in our fight for these iconic animals. We’ll continue to push the agency to immediately protect these wolves before it’s too late.
You can take action for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies by asking Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to immediately extend Endangered Species Act protections to these animals.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.