Wolf coalition launches challenge to nationwide wolf delisting

UNITED STATES — A coalition of western wolf advocates filed a notice of intent to sue with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. The coalition launching the legal challenge includes the Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, Cascadia Wildlands, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Environmental Protection Information Center, The Lands Council, Wildlands Network, and Klamath Forest Alliance. 

The groups are challenging the agency’s decision to remove wolves from the endangered species list. The notice starts a 60-day clock, after which the groups will file a lawsuit in federal court. 

“The nationwide de-listing of wolves is designed to serve the extinction agenda of the livestock lobby and the most scientifically ignorant fringe of the sportsmen’s lobby,” said Erik Molvar, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “We are committed to restoring the West to ecological health, which can’t be done without restoring key native species like the gray wolf.” 

The most recent data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its state partners show an estimated 4,400 wolves inhabit the western Great Lakes states, but only 108 wolves in Washington state, 158 in Oregon, and a scant 15 in California. Nevada, Utah, and Colorado have had a few wolf sightings over the past three years, but wolves remain functionally extirpated in these states. 

“Given that gray wolves in the lower 48 states occupy a fraction of their historical and currently available habitat, the Fish and Wildlife Service determining they are successfully recovered does not pass the straight-face test,” said John Mellgren, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “While the Trump administration may believe it can disregard science to promote political decisions, the law does not support such a stance. We look forward to having a court hear our science-based arguments for why wolves are not recovered throughout the contiguous U.S. and need Endangered Species Act protections to fully recover.”

The conservation groups have long been active on wolf recovery issues in the American West, including working with western states to develop science-based wolf management plans, mounting cases to rein in rogue federal government wolf-killing programs, promoting recovery efforts in the Southwest for critically imperiled Mexican gray wolves, and furthering non-lethal methods to prevent wolf-livestock conflicts before they occur. 

“Wolves are a keystone species whose presence on landscapes regulates animal populations and improves ecosystem health – something the Service has acknowledged for at least 44 years,” said Kelly Nokes, an attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “Allowing people to kill wolves in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana has already stunted recovery in those states. Applying this same death sentence to wolves throughout the contiguous U.S. would nationalize these negative effects, with potentially catastrophic ripple effects on ecosystems wherever wolves are found today.”

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