The Biden administration will review the status of northern Rocky Mountain wolves, potentially restoring federal protection to wolves in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and the eastern one-third of Oregon and Washington.
The 12-month review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was requested by environmental groups. The agency agreed that the hunting of wolves in Idaho and Montana poses a potential threat to the species.
The review will take in Rocky Mountain wolves that has dispersed into Oregon and Washington. Wolves there were taken off the endangered species in 2011.
The Washington Department of Fish Wildlife says wolfpacks saturate northeast Washington. The department has resorted to killing wolves to stop chronic attacks on livestock.
Northeast Washington rancher Scott Nielsen, president of the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association, said restoring federal protection would be a foolish political decision.
“The whole thing is really misguided. It’s politics. They were delisted because they weren’t endangered,” he said. “Did something happen to change that?”
The wolf population continues to grow in Oregon and Washington. The recent annual growth rate has been in the single digits.
Center for Biological Diversity wolf organizer Amaroq Weiss said hunting in Idaho leaves fewer wolves to move into Washington and Oregon.
“If you destroy the core population, that has an impact on the number of wolves dispersing into adjacent states,” she said.
Environmentalists had hoped the Biden administration would issue an emergency rule to stop hunting in Idaho and Montana. “We would have loved to see more immediate action,” Weiss said.
The Trump administration took wolves throughout the Lower 48 off the federal protection list. The decision delisted wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon and in California.
Environmental groups have been seeking to restore protection in those areas by suing in U.S. District Court of Northern California. Until Sept. 15, the Biden administration had defended withdrawing federal protection from wolves throughout the West.
The Biden administration has argued in court filings that the population of wolves in the West was “robust, well distributed and expanding.”
Wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes are connected with a large population of wolves in Canada and are not in danger of going extinct, the administration has argued.
The Biden administration also said that state management plans were no reason to change the science behind delisting.
The Fish and Wildlife Service, however, said Sept. 15 that environmental groups had presented “substantial” new information. The petitions focused on management plans in Idaho and Montana.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Public Lands Council said in a joint statement that they were disappointed, but confident that the science behind delisting wolves will hold up.
“It is unacceptable for the service to continue to be held hostage by groups who want nothing more than to turn the Endangered Species Act into a permanent management tool,” Lands Council executive director Kaitlynn Glover.
Idaho lawmakers this year approved year-round trapping of wolves on private land and unlimited purchase of wolf tags.