The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced Wednesday they are reviewing the status of the gray wolf in the Western U.S. following calls to do so from anti-hunting groups. 

The agency is acting on a 52-page emergency petition delivered in June by the Center for Biological Diversity and The Humane Society of the United States to Interior Secretary Debra Haaland and FWS Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. The groups contend that hunting in Idaho and Montana – currently controlled by state conservation agencies-- could harm the population of wolves that number at least 1,500 and 1,200 respectively. The fix, says the groups, is to apply federal protections to the predators under the Endangered Species Act.

A second, 63-page petition submitted in July on behalf of several smaller activist organizations such as WildEarth Guardians and Great Old Broads for Wilderness, makes much the same argument.

Collectively, the groups want the protections applied across all, or part, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. This would preclude state-sanctioned hunting and trapping seasons to control wolf populations in those areas. 

After reviewing the petitions and publishing a finding in favor of the status review, FWS will spend the next 12 months "using the best available science and information" to arrive at a decision on whether listing gray wolves as threatened or endangered in the western U.S. is warranted.

"The Service finds the petitioners present substantial information that potential increases in human-caused mortality may pose a threat to the gray wolf in the western U.S," said FWS in a statement. "The Service also finds that new regulatory mechanisms in Idaho and Montana may be inadequate to address this threat. Therefore, the Service finds that gray wolves in the western U.S. may warrant listing."

According to the FWS, gray wolves can weigh from 40 to 175 pounds depending on sex and geographic location and have an average life span of between six to eight years. They feed on white-tailed deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, as well as smaller animals such as beaver and rabbit but have often been credited with killing domestic pets and hunting dogs. 

Gray wolves in the Lower 48 were listed as endangered under the ESA in 1973 but saw a resurgence to the point that by 2002 the animal was proposed to transfer control of the populations to state management. In 2020, the FWS under the Trump administration moved forward with a full delisting with the agency saying, "the gray wolf entities in the lower 48 United States do not meet the definitions of a threatened species or an endangered species."

The Montana-based Boone & Crockett Club say they hope the FWS will put science ahead of politics and reiterated that every prior analysis in the past two decades found the gray wolf in North America is not in need of the protections of the ESA.

“Today’s announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could provoke more controversy, but we hope all concerned can come to agree that wolf conservation and management should remain under the scientific management of state wildlife agencies,” commented Boone and Crockett Club chief executive officer, Tony Schoonen.

Haaland, who is over the FWS, is the controversial former chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico who was seen as being anti-gun in her confirmation hearings earlier this year. Staunchly opposed by Republicans and firearms groups, Haaland squeaked through with the slimmest margin possible in the Senate last March. 

Her nomination was supported by both WildEarth Guardians and the HSUS. 

Banner image: Gray Wolves in snow. (Photo: Scott Flaherty/USFWS)

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