It’s not just North Cascades grizzly reintroduction that federal wildlife overseers have begun working on again this year. They’re also putting in time on gray wolf delisting for the western Northwest and elsewhere, it appears.
Half a decade to the month after first proposing to declare wolves recovered across the rest of the contiguous United States, a process subsequently derailed through lawsuits, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “has begun reviewing the status of the species.”
That’s according to a brief two-paragraph statement emailed to Northwest Sportsman magazine Thursday afternoon by a spokesperson.
“Working closely with our federal, state, tribal and local partners, we will assess the currently listed gray wolf entities in the Lower 48 states using the best available scientific information,” it continues. “If appropriate, the Service will publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register by the end of the calendar year. Any proposal will follow a robust, transparent and open public process that will provide opportunity for public comment.”
That could level the playing field, per se, in Washington and Oregon, where wildlife managers and livestock producers operate by different sets of rules depending on which side of a series of highways they’re on.
In spring 2011, Congress delisted wolves in each state’s eastern third — as well as all of Montana and Idaho and a portion of Utah — leaving management there up to WDFW and ODFW.
Meanwhile, federal protections continued in their western two-thirds, where lethal removal is not in the toolbox to deal with chronic depredations.
“Incompatibility between the Washington state management plan and the federal management plan creates a bureaucratic nightmare that leaves communities in Eastern Washington unable to defend themselves against increasing wolf attacks and livestock depredations,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Spokane) wrote to Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in a letter earlier this week calling on his agency to look at delisting wolves.
Regardless of the ranch’s or grazing allotment’s location, both states stress preventative measures to head off cattle and sheep conflicts.
Later in 2011, USFWS declared the species recovered in the western Great Lakes states.
And then in June 2013, with “gray wolves no longer (facing) the threat of extinction or (requiring) the protections of the Endangered Species Act,” according to then-Director Dan Ashe, the feds proposed delisting them throughout the rest of their range.
But progress stalled, and then came a Humane Society of the United States court case addressing Canis lupus in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“Unfortunately, the delisting of wolves in the Western Great Lakes region was successfully overturned by the courts, which prevented the Service from moving forward with the full delisting proposal at that time,” the second part of the USFWS statement concludes.
Last summer, a federal appeals court decision yielded mixed results, but the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation saw positives, including “(undoing) a number of roadblocks thus providing a path forward.”
Over the years, Washington’s and Oregon’s wolf populations have more than doubled from 2013 levels, largely in the state-managed areas.
And now, USFWS’s big, long delisting pause appears to be over, which will excite some and make others fearful.