WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-controlled House passed a bill Friday to drop legal protections for gray wolves across the lower 48 states, reopening a lengthy battle over the predator species.
Long despised by farmers and ranchers, wolves were shot, trapped and poisoned out of existence in most of the U.S. by the mid-20th century. Since securing protection in the 1970s, wolves have bounced back in the western Great Lakes states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the wolf’s status and is expected to declare they’ve recovered sufficiently to be removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The House bill would enshrine that policy in law and restrict judicial review of listing decisions. The measure was approved, 196-180, and now goes to the Senate, where prospects are murkier.
The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., said farmers in Wisconsin and other states are “one step closer to having the legal means to defend their livestock from gray wolves.”
States should be responsible for managing wolf populations, “not Washington bureaucrats,” Duffy said.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., prime sponsor of the Manage Our Wolves Act, H.R. 6784, with Duffy, urged prompt consideration in the Senate.
“The recovery of the gray wolf is a success story for the Endangered Species Act and the best available science must determine whether species remain listed,” Newhouse said.
States are best equipped to effectively manage gray wolves, Newhouse said, noting returning of management to the states was requested by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Obama administration.
Newhouse said it is due to “fringe environmental efforts” through the courts that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has been unable to delist the wolf.
“It is because of this exploitation of the law that communities like those in Central Washington suffer the consequences,” he said.
The wolf is not federally listed in the eastern third of Washington but is in the western two-thirds, impairing management, he said.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., likely the next chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, also is a sponsor of the bill.
Environmental groups and many Democrats slammed the bill as a last-ditch effort by Republicans to push a pro-rancher agenda after losing control of the House in this month’s midterm elections.
“This final, pathetic stab at wolves exemplifies House Republicans’ longstanding cruelty and contempt for our nation’s wildlife,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based environmental group.
“The American people overwhelmingly support the Endangered Species Act and the magnificent animals and plants it protects,” Hartl said. “We don’t expect to see these disgraceful anti-wildlife votes next year under Democratic control of the House.”
Livestock industry associations representing ranchers who have to contend with wolves scaring and attacking cattle and sheep said in a letter to Congress that U.S. wolf populations have recovered in recent decades. The animal would have been removed from the endangered species list if not for “activist litigants” who “used the judicial system to circumvent sound science and restore full ESA protections to these predators,” the groups wrote.
Capital Press reporter Dan Wheat contributed to this story.