On February 28, the “American Wild Game & Livestock Protection Act” was introduced in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support. Sponsored by Representatives Rob Bishop (R – UT), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Collin Peterson (D-MN), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. This legislation mirrors a bill introduced by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) in December of 2019.
Both bills would direct the Secretary of the Interior to remove gray wolves from the Federal Endangered Species List. Secretary Bernhardt has voiced support for delisting wolves in the past, stating last year that the species “is thriving on its vast range, and it is reasonable to conclude it will continue to do so in the future.”
Initially listed in the lower 48 states during the 1970s, gray wolf populations have recovered and expanded in recent decades and their status has evolved into one of the most contentious and controversial wildlife management issues in the nation.
Gray Wolves in the lower 48 are listed as two distinct population segments: A Western Great Lakes population living primarily in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and a Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population mostly in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming with packs recently expanding into Colorado, Washington, and potentially Utah.
Congress statutorily removed the Northern Rocky Mountain population of wolves from the Endangered Species List between 2011 and 2012. State fish and wildlife agencies now manage their respective wolf populations and Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming authorize hunting as part of their management strategies. Wolf populations in these states are stable under state management and hunting has not had a detrimental impact on their conservation status.
“Gray wolf populations have reached sustainable levels, and it is well past time to return authority over their management to the states,” said Rep. Peterson. “This bipartisan legislation will allow states to protect the livelihood of their livestock owners and preserve a healthy balance of wild animal populations,” he said.
There have been several attempts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to regulatorily delist the Western Great Lakes wolf population based on scientific evidence that indicates their current population exceeds the metrics set for recovery by as much as 300%. However, these delisting efforts consistently fail due to emotionally based legal challenges from anti-hunting groups which is something this legislation hopes to address. Wolves in these states cannot be hunted due to their outdated protected status.
“SCI is not and has never been anti-wolf. Our organization supports wolf conservation in balance with the broader conservation of ecosystems and SCI believes that wolf management policies should be driven by the best available science and not emotional rhetoric,” said Ben Cassidy, SCI’s Director of Government Affairs. “SCI also believes that state agencies, and not the federal government are the entities best equipped to manage wildlife within their borders.”
“Gray wolves have been recovered for a long time now, and this bill will bring finality to the issue by allowing states to manage their population,” said. Rep Bishop.