Groups allege Fish and Wildlife Service illegally denied safeguards to persecuted gray wolves
WASHINGTON (Feb. 7, 2024)—Four conservation and animal protection groups today notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that they plan to sue over the agency’s denial of their petition to protect gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains under the Endangered Species Act.
“It’s beyond frustrating that federal officials are harming wolf recovery by denying wolves in the northern Rockies the powerful federal protections they deserve,” said Andrea Zaccardi, carnivore conservation legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Unlike the Fish and Wildlife Service, we refuse to sanction the annual slaughter of hundreds of wolves. Allowing unlimited wolf killing sabotages decades of recovery efforts in the northern Rockies, as well as those in neighboring West Coast and southern Rockies states.”
The groups’ petition sought to relist gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains or across the West under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service denied the petition, relying largely on outdated and unambitious recovery goals for the northern Rocky Mountains wolf population.
The Fish and Wildlife Service also ignored the best available science that shows why the agency cannot reasonably rely on state overestimates of the northern Rockies wolf population and that aggressive, unregulated killing threatens wolf viability across the West. Wolf populations in West Coast and Rockies states rely on wolves traveling from the northern Rockies to increase genetic diversity and promote a healthy, stable future for the species.
“Nearly 30 years after wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, wolves in the region are once again in danger of extinction,” said Margie Robinson, staff attorney for wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States. “The Humane Society of the United States will not idly stand by while the federal government permits northern Rockies states to wage war on wolves. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must make decisions that protect precious native wildlife for generations to come, rather than allowing states to cater to trophy hunters, trappers and ranchers.”
Under recently passed laws, Montana extended the wolf-trapping season by four weeks and established a bounty program to pay hunters and trappers for costs associated with killing wolves. Montana hunters and trappers killed 258 wolves during the 2022 season and have already killed more than 235 wolves this season, which runs until March 15.
Idaho law allows the state to hire private contractors to kill wolves, lets hunters and trappers kill an unlimited number of wolves, and permits year-round trapping on private land. It also allows hunters and trappers to kill wolves by chasing them down with hounds and all-terrain vehicles. In 2022 and 2023, Idaho hunters and trappers killed more than 560 wolves.
Across most of Wyoming gray wolves are designated as “predatory animals” and can be killed without a license in nearly any manner and at any time. Wyoming hunters have legally killed numerous wolves within 10 miles of the border with Colorado, where wolves are finally returning to the state through dispersals and historic releases.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service failed to recognize how the harmful methods that Idaho and Montana have implemented will drive down wolf numbers drastically," said Nick Gevock, Sierra Club field organizer for the Northern Rockies. "The regimens these states have pursued are reminiscent of the 1800s effort to eradicate wolves, and they have no place in modern wildlife management. No other species is treated this way, and it's reversing what was a great conservation success story."
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed in its commitment to advance the long-term survival of wolves in the northern Rockies—instead bowing to the demands of those who prioritize profit over wildlife,” said Gillian Lyons, director of regulatory affairs for Humane Society Legislative Fund. “Gray wolves are iconic residents of the Rocky Mountains who deserve federal protections, and we will continue this fight on behalf of the millions of Americans who value these intelligent, social creatures.”
Today’s notice of intent to sue gives the Fish and Wildlife Service 60 days to remedy its legal violations. If the agency fails to do so, the groups will file a lawsuit in federal district court.
Wolves in Idaho, Montana, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and northern Utah lost federal protections through a congressional legislative rider in 2011. Following a court battle, wolves in Wyoming also lost federal protection in 2012. Since losing Endangered Species Act protection, wolves in the northern Rockies have suffered widespread persecution.
In 2021, after Idaho and Montana enacted even more aggressive wolf-killing laws, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund and Sierra Club petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to again protect gray wolves in the northern Rockies. The petition asked for immediate relisting of wolves under the Endangered Species Act, saying the new, destructive wolf-killing state laws will cause steep wolf population declines, threatening the wolves with endangerment.
In August 2022, wildlife conservation groups were forced to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to make a final decision on whether gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains warrant federal protection under the Act. The agency’s denial, announced last week, comes in response to a court-imposed deadline resulting from that lawsuit.
Kate Sarna, Humane Society of the United States/Humane Society Legislative Fund : 202-836-1265; firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrea Zaccardi, Center for Biological Diversity : 303-854-7748 ; email@example.com
Noah Rott, Sierra Club : firstname.lastname@example.org