A proposal to remove the growing population of gray wolves from federal protections under the Endangered Species Act is headed to the Senate. On Thursday, the House voted 196-180 to approve the nominally bipartisan H.R. 6784, which would lead to the removal of the gray wolf in the lower 48 states from the Act’s List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.
Considered a keystone predator by biologists, the wolf has been listed as endangered since 1978 in most of the country, but lawmakers and conservation agencies argue the time has come for states to manage their local, resurgent, populations.
“If you live in Wisconsin, especially northern Wisconsin, it might be necessary for us to actually manage this population because it’s good for the environment,” said U.S. Rep.Sean Duffy, R-Wisc. “It’s good for the wolves. It’s good for the cattle. It’s actually really good for our deer population. And so I just think this just makes common sense.”
A co-sponsor of the bill, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., said that in his state conservation officials have told him they documented the first gray wolf pack in Washington in 2008, and a decade later they now have 22 known packs with the state’s wolf population jumping “by an average of more than 30 percent per year.”
In the past 40 years, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says the gray wolf has rebounded “from the brink of extinction” to a population that has exceeded its target level in some cases by as much as 300 percent, with an estimated 5,700 animals in the lower 48. “Wolf numbers continue to be robust, stable and self-sustaining,” says the agency, which has proposed several times over the years to delist the species.
The population in one state, Wyoming, climbed so much that feds moved to delist the animals in that area which in turn allowed local authorities to plan hunting seasons accordingly. This triggered a lengthy bout of federal lawsuits from animal rights groups that delayed the delisting until last year. To avoid such further legal battles, the removal mandate of H.R. 6784 in its current form “shall not be subject to judicial review.”
Language in the bill is similar to provisions in a floor amendment to H.R. 5538 that passed the House by a vote of 223 to 201 in 2016 but never made it through the Senate.
While animal rights activist groups label the proposal with phrases that include terms like “global mass extinction crisis,” pro-hunting groups support the measure. Safari Club International President Paul Babaz characterized the bill as a “tremendous victory for hunters, wildlife conservation in general, and State wildlife managers. All of them have played significant roles in recovering gray wolf populations.”