Groups Sue USFWS Over Gray Wolf Delisting

As if these times weren’t quite polarized enough, there weren’t far, far weightier things environmental groups could be working on, and a generalist species that’s doing just fine needed any more help, a pro-wolf coalition says they’re going to sue over federal delisting in western portions of Washington and Oregon.


They’re challenging this month’s final rule from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on gray wolves in the Northwest, as well as the rest of the Lower 48, in U.S. District Court for Northern California, claiming various Endangered Species and Administrative Procedural Act violations in a 46-page court filing.

They say the delisting, announced in late October before the presidential election after years of review, was “premature,” contravenes USFWS’s “responsibility to take a precautionary approach to wildlife management” and goes against various past court decisions.

“Removing Endangered Species Act protections for any species should be based science, not politics, and the science tells us wolves are not there yet,” said Chris Bachman, wildlife program director at The Lands Council, in a press release. “The gray wolf remains functionally extinct in 85 percent of its historic range, with 70 percent of suitable habitat remaining unoccupied across the Lower 48 states. Legal protections must remain in place for the gray wolf to allow wider dispersal across a significant portion of its range.”

In delisting wolves last fall, USFWS said ESA does not require that wolves occupy all former habitats, rather measures “whether wolves are in danger of extinction (endangered) or at risk of becoming so in the foreseeable future (threatened) throughout all or a significant portion of its range. By any scientific measure, gray wolves no longer meet the ESA’s standard for protection and so should be delisted.”

WDFW and ODFW took over full state management of wolves on Jan. 4.

Not much was expected to change in terms of day to day operations, as the predators remain under state protections and no hunting or trapping is allowed outside of tribal seasons in parts of Northeast Washington.

During a Friday morning state House committee hearing, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind termed being the sole manager of wolves in Washington “a good thing, a positive thing.”

“I prefer it that way. We have a little more latitude in managing them,” Susewind told representatives.

Both state agencies have begun their annual winter counts, which are likely to again show population growth and packs confirmed in new places.

WDFW recently reported biologists deployed trail cams near Chinook and White Passes in the South Cascades and conducted surveys in the Skagit watershed, multiple areas in Chelan County as well as north of Lake Chelan, and north of Skykomish, though not all surveyed areas are known to have wolves.

The report states that in 2020 there were at least eight known wolf mortalities last year, including three lethal removals for livestock depredations, with 77 percent of packs not involved in known depredations. Ranchers grazing cattle in troublesome parts of Northeast Washington reported “extremely good,” “above average” and “good” postseason herd counts, per WDFW.

Organizations involved in the federal lawsuit include: WildEarth Guardians of Santa Fe; Western Watersheds Project of Idaho’s Sun Valley; Cascadia Wildlands of Eugene; Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center of Ashland; Environmental Protection Information Center of the Northern California coastal town of Arcata; The Lands Council of Spokane; Wildlands Network of Salt Lake City; Klamath Forest Alliance, also of NorCal; and Kettle Range Conservation Group of Republic, Washington.

Corrections, 10:55 a.m., January 15, 2021: The number of wolves lethally removed by WDFW in 2020 was incorrectly listed as four in the original version of this blog. In fact it was three; the fourth referred to an animal taken out in 2019 but mistakenly included in my initial tally. And last year’s packs not involved in depredations was slightly off, 77 percent not 75 percent.