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Five Reasons the U.S. Should Not Abandon Gray Wolves

A wolf in Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

A wolf in Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Back in June, Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said, “I don’t have second thoughts” about the agency’s proposal to drop Endangered Species Act protections for wolves across most of the United States.

Here are five reasons why Director Ashe, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and President Obama should most definitely think twice about this proposal:

1. Wolves are still missing across the vast majority of their former range.

Wolves exist today in only a fraction of their historic range.
Photo courtesy of Gregory "Greg" Smith

Wolves once roamed free across the United States. But centuries of hunting, trapping, and poisoning rendered them nearly extinct in the continental United States by the 1970s. Wolf reintroduction and revitalization efforts since the 1990s have brought wolves back to the northern Rocky Mountains and the western Great Lakes states. Yet wolves are still missing from the vast majority of their former range. The job of restoring wolves to still-suitable habitat across the United States—as FWS has done for other wide-ranging species like the bald eagle—is far from done.

2. FWS’s wolf delisting proposal is not supported by science.

Biologists fit a female gray wolf with a radio tracking collar.
Biologists fit a female gray wolf with a radio tracking collar.
Brendan Oates / U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

In a report released earlier this year, a panel of independent scientists agreed unanimously that FWS did not use “best available science” in its national wolf delisting proposal. The findings by the scientists (a group convened at FWS’s request, by the way) matter because the Endangered Species Act requires that decisions about federal protections for species be based on the “best available science.” Yet FWS seems poised to ignore this panel’s findings.

3. Wolves are critical to the health of their native ecosystems.

Infographic: Wolves Keep Yellowstone in Balance.
Wolves keep the Yellowstone ecosystem in balance. View Infographic »


As FWS points out, wolves are a “keystone” species, meaning that they play a crucial role in how their native ecosystems function. The extermination of wolves in places like the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem triggered a cascade of effects that dramatically altered the landscape. With no wolves, the elk population exploded, leading to overgrazing of willows and aspen, which are needed by beavers to build dams. As a result, the beavers virtually disappeared, leaving marshes to turn into streams disrupting aquatic life. The wolves’ return to Yellowstone has helped restore the balance of nature there. If FWS abandons wolf protections nationwide, the agency will almost certainly eliminate the chance for wolves to help restore natural balance in more wild places.

4. Wolves that already lost federal protections are facing an awful plight.

A wolf in Montana.
Photo courtesy of Nomadic Lass / Flickr

The FWS’s current delisting proposal would remove federal wolf protections across nearly the entire country. However wolves in a handful of states, including Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, have already been removed from the endangered species list. The assault on wolves in those states demonstrates that existing federal protections are essential to give wolves a chance for survival. The situation in Idaho is particularly appalling. That state has created a taxpayer-funded “wolf control fund” to drive down wolf numbers; an anti-wolf group is attempting to hold wolf-killing “derby” contests each year for the next five years after already holding one such event last December; and Idaho officials sent a professional hunter/trapper into a federal wilderness area to exterminate two wolf packs for the benefit of elk hunters. (Thanks to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice, Idaho recently abandoned plans to continue this professional wolf-killing program this coming winter.)

5. More than 1.2 million people have spoken out on behalf of wolves.

Gray Wolves.
There's time to sleep later—run, don't walk, to your nearest Action Alert: Wolves In The Lower-48 States Need Your Help! and add your voice today.
Photo courtesy of Steve Jurvetson

The FWS has now held two comment periods on its national wolf delisting proposal, during which more than 1.2 million people submitted comments opposing the plan. This represents the largest number of comments ever submitted to the FWS on an endangered species issue. In addition, 200 businesses have written to Interior Secretary Jewell opposing the plan, as have 73 members of Congress.

FWS Director Ashe has indicated his agency will take a next step on this national wolf delisting proposal before the end of the year. It’s not too late for Director Ashe, Secretary Jewell, and President Obama to rethink this plan and the legacy that this administration will leave on wolf recovery. It’s not too late to give wolves a fighting chance to return to wild places.

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.