By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
Wolves across most of the continental United States must have Endangered Species Act protections restored, a federal judge ruled yesterday, effectively prohibiting trophy hunting of the species across most of the country.
This tremendous victory is the result of a lawsuit filed by the Humane Society of the United States and our allies immediately after delisting went into effect in 2021. It couldn’t be any more welcome or necessary. Last year was one of the worst for wolves in recent history. Lawmakers in Idaho and Montana enacted new legislation aimed at decimating wolf populations using cruel methods such as strangling neck snares. And in Wisconsin, a heartless and bloody trophy hunting season saw state-licensed hunters deploy packs of hounds and snowmobiles to slaughter more than 218 wolves in 60 hours—a death tally that would likely be repeated this fall if not for this legal decision.
As spring approaches, this year’s wolf pups in the Great Lakes states will emerge to a safer world where they can play and learn from their family members, instead of a world where wolf packs are torn apart by treacherous snares, bullets or dogs trained to track and kill.
Judge Jeffrey White’s 26-page opinion slammed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for dodging its legal obligations under the Endangered Species Act and ignoring the best available science. In particular, he faulted the agency’s dismissal of the importance of wolves, and the serious perils they face, outside the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies states—including nascent populations in Colorado and on the West Coast. The decision echoes what we’ve been arguing since this shortsighted delisting was first proposed in 2019: Wolves still need federal protection. They occupy only a fraction of their historic range, and their survival is still threatened by factors that range from climate change to loss of habitat to persecution by some trigger-happy state agencies and officials.
The decision grants wolves across most of the country a desperately needed reprieve, but there’s still work to be done. Wolves in the Northern Rockies states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming still lack federal protections. Emergency relisting is necessary to protect them from aggressive wolf-killing laws in those states. And with respect to wolves elsewhere, it’s clearer than ever that the federal government needs to change course. In case after case brought by the HSUS and our allies, attempts to prematurely strip wolves of Endangered Species Act protections have been struck down by courts. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must abandon its serial, piecemeal approach to delisting this iconic American species and instead develop a long-overdue plan to recover the species nationwide. It’s not only what the law requires, but what Americans—75% of whom oppose trophy hunting of wolves—want.
Kitty Block is CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.