In a move that is certain to rile environmental activists, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today upheld a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove gray wolves from the list of threatened and endangered species. The Endangered Species Act currently protects wolves living in the western Great Lakes and the northern Rocky Mountain states of Idaho and Montana as well as parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah.
"The recovery of the gray wolf throughout significant portions of its historic range is one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act," Salazar said in a statement. "When it was listed as endangered in 1974, the wolf had almost disappeared from the continental United States. Today, we have more than 5,500 wolves, including more than 1,600 in the Rockies."
Much of that success is attributable to the reintroduction of wolf populations into Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s. Wolves were transplanted to the Rocky Mountain region from Canada as a check on burgeoning populations of elk and bison. As a result, wolf populations in the park have ballooned from 30-40 wolves to the 1,600 that Salazar cited in his announcement.
When plans to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list were initially broached in February 2008, environmental and animal-rights groups filed suit to keep the wolves on the endangered list. A federal court judge in Montana sided last year with the groups and determined that the animal's survival was at risk. In particular, the judge cited Wyoming as a state that did not have adequate provisions in place to ensure the animal's long-term survival after it is de-listed. In deference to this, the department will not remove Wyoming gray wolves from the endangered species list.
Environmental groups expressed disappointment and some seemed poised to mount additional legal challenges to the department's decision today.
"We are disappointed the new administration has missed this opportunity to change course, and rethink the failed wolf persecution policies of the last eight years," said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president & chief counsel for animal protection litigation with The Humane Society of the United States. "We urge the Department of the Interior to reconsider this ongoing effort to strip wolves of all federal protection, which has been repeatedly struck down by the courts, and is no more likely to succeed here than the previous failed attempts."
The Fish and Wildlife Service announced a revised plan to remove the wolves from the list in January, but Salazar put it on hold as part of an overall regulatory review of Bush-era policies by the Obama administration.