SACRAMENTO — Federal officials say reintroduction programs for the gray wolf have been a success and the animal no longer needs Endangered Species Act protections.
Thanks to wolf management programs, public education and research, more than 5,000 gray wolves now live in the lower 48 states, said Mike Jimenez, a wolf biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
State and tribal wildlife agencies, conservation groups and universities have helped federal scientists restore the species so that it is a functioning member of the ecosystem, Jimenez and other federal officials assert.
“The goal of the Endangered Species Act is to prevent extinction,” Jimenez told more than 400 environmentalists, ranchers and others who packed a hotel ballroom here Nov. 22. “There’s no set formula for how this is done. The goal is to bring them back to the state where they no longer need protection.”
Jimenez and Gary Frazer, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s assistant director for ecological services, have been holding meetings across the West to gather input on the proposed delisting of the gray wolf. In addition to the meeting here, others were held last week in Denver and Albuquerque, N.M., and the final hearing is set for Dec. 3 in Pinetop, Ariz.
The agency proposed lifting most gray wolf protections in June, a move that would end four decades of recovery efforts. Some scientists and members of Congress have argued the wolves should still be shielded so they could expand beyond the portions of 10 states they now occupy.
However, at the time of their listing in the 1970s there were virtually no wolves in the lower 48 states, Jimenez said. Because of recovery efforts in the Great Lakes region, about 2,211 wolves live in Minnesota, as do about 658 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and at least 809 in Wisconsin, according to the agency.
Meanwhile, the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in the mid-1990s has led to a vibrant population in the Rocky Mountains and Northwest, including 46 in Oregon and 53 in Washington, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Federal protections have already been lifted in parts of the West and Midwest, including Idaho and easternmost Oregon and Washington. Under the Obama administration’s plan, protections would remain only for a fledgling population of Mexican gray wolves in the desert Southwest.
“The gray wolf in the Southwest is still a work in progress,” Jimenez said. “It has not achieved recovery yet.”
The federal delisting proposal comes as the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has been considering a petition to give the gray wolf state Endangered Species Act protections. Wildlife officials appear to be preparing to deny the petition, mainly because no wolf populations are established here.
Even so, Sacramento was chosen as the West Coast’s only site to discuss the federal delisting proposal “based on requests we received from elected officials and the public,” Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Claire Cassel said earlier this month.
About 100 wolf advocates held a rally before the meeting at the Marriott Courtyard Cal Expo, voicing their opposition to the federal push to lift protection.
“The wolf is a part of our national heritage,” said Amaroq Weiss, the Center for Biological Diversity’s West Coast wolf organizer. “It was their land before it was ours. … Scientists have identified hundreds of thousands of square miles of wolf habitat, including in California.”
Written comments on the proposed delisting will be accepted through Dec. 17.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gray wolf page: http://www.fws.gov/home/wolfrecovery/