Why Environmentalists Want Fewer Protections for Gray Wolves

In a move to reestablish nationwide safeguards for the predator, conservationists are willing to accept trade-offs.

(Photo: Mark Newman/Getty Images)

Jan 28, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

In a bid to ensure the survival of the gray wolf in the United States, 22 environmental groups are asking the federal government to give the predator fewer protections.

Huh?

The species is listed as endangered in the continental U.S., but wolf-unfriendly states such as Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho have succeeded in removing protections for the animal and gaining approval to hunt them.

In those three states alone, hunters have already exterminated more than a third of the 1,600 resident wolves. Before things get worse, the Humane Society of the United States—along with 21 other conservation organizations—have made an unusual move. They have filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to downgrade the status of wolves from endangered to threatened. It’s a bid to reestablish protections—albeit fewer ones—for the wolf in the Lower 48 in exchange for more flexibility in how the species is preserved.

“Several states have badly failed in their management of wolves, and their brand of reckless trapping, trophy hunting, and even hound hunting just has not been supported by the courts or by the American people,” Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society, said in a statement. “We do, however, understand the fears that some ranchers have about wolves, and we believe that maintaining federal protections while allowing more active management of human-wolf conflicts achieves the right balance for all key stakeholders and is consistent with the law.”

The move follows a recent decision by a federal court to reinstate endangered status to wolves in the Great Lakes region. That prompted U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Michigan, to draft a bill that would remove all protections for wolves in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Wyoming.

“Anti-wolf politicians are beating the drums for Congress to intervene and delist wolves entirely, subverting the core principles of the Endangered Species Act,” Pacelle told The Huffington Post. “Our plan respects the purpose and intent of the Endangered Species Act but gives a nod to the folks who want more active control options for wolves, especially ranchers, while not ceding control of wolf management decisions to state agencies that have consistently demonstrated an overreaching, reckless and even cruel hand in dealing with wolves in their states.”

By 1978, only two populations remained in the Lower 48. But thanks to a reintroduction program, wolves now number around 6,000.