On November 3, 2020 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”)1 issued “Removing the Gray Wolf (Canis Lupus) From the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife” (“Final Rule”) delisting the gray wolf in forty-eight states, except for the Mexican gray wolf in the Southwest.2 This Final Rule returned gray wolf management to the states. Wolf delisting was a last-minute gift from the Trump administration to conservative voters, particularly hunters, trappers, and livestock owners right before the November 2020 presidential election. Hunters and trappers view the wolf as a competitor for the game that they want to kill, while livestock owners fear wolf depredation of their stock. It was also the culmination of a twenty-year effort by the FWS to delist the gray wolf. Conservation groups have filed lawsuits challenging the delisting.3 These lawsuits allege that the gray wolf cannot be delisted because it is still missing from significant portions of its range.4 In promulgating the Final Rule, the FWS focused solely on the gray wolf populations of the Western Great Lakes (“WGL”) and Northern Rocky Mountain (“NRM”), but did not consider the importance of peripheral populations in the Pacific Northwest, central Rockies, and Northeast.5 The FWS supported its limited focus by arguing that the gray wolf had recovered and faced no danger in the WGL and NRM metapopulations.6 Gray wolves in the peripheral regions are not important to the survival of the species, according to the FWS.7 Gray wolves have recovered in the WGL and NRM regions, but are still facing threats under aggressive state management. Gray wolves in the peripheral regions have not yet recovered. Federal delisting may jeopardize their recovery under state management. This article posits that the premature delisting of the gray wolf violates the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). The FWS definition of “the significant portion of the range” was mistaken. The FWS focused solely on the wolf’s current range but failed to consider portions of the wolf’s historic range where suitable habitat is present. The FWS employed flawed distinct population segment (“DPS”) strategies to delist the wolf. 8 The FWS failed to consider significant portions of the wolf’s current range where suitable habitat is present. And the FWS delegated wolf management authority to states, which have questionable commitments to wolf recovery. This article will extensively analyze prior judicial decisions and show the faulty reasoning behind the gray wolf delisting.
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Edward A. Fitzgerald Dr.,
Premature Grey Wolf Delisting,
Nat. Resources J.
Available at: https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/nrj/vol62/iss2/3