House Votes to Remove Wolves from Endangered Species List

On April 30, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would direct the Secretary of the Interior to remove gray wolves from federal protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). HR764, or the Trust the Science Act, skirted through on an extremely slim margin in a vote that broke down along party lines. But even if it manages pass the Senate, supporters worry that the bill will be vetoed by the Biden Administration, which indicated strong opposition to the measure in a recent statement.

The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Rep. Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin. Though it was mostly supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, four Democrats voted to delist gray wolves while four Republicans voted to keep the large carnivores under full federal protection. The final vote tally came down to 209 for and 205 against.

According to the Durango Herald, the bill would re-issue a Trump-era rule that removed wolves in the Lower 48 from the endangered list before it was struck down by a federal judge in Oakland, California in 2022. The 2022 court ruling didn’t apply to gray wolf populations in Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming, which are still managed by state game agencies through regulated hunting and trapping methods. But it returned the rest of Lower 48’s wolves to the full suite of federal protections afforded by the ESA, including those in the Upper Midwest and the more southern reaches of the Rocky Mountains.

HR764 would delist all gray wolves with the notable exception of an endangered subspecies known as the Mexican gray wolf. And it would stop federal judges from putting wolves back under federal protections by suspending judicial review. “The science is clear,” Rep. Tiffany of Wisconsin said in a press release announcing the bill’s passage. “The gray wolf has met and exceeded recovery goals … I will continue to fight to get this legislation through the U.S. Senate to protect livestock and pets from brutal wolf attacks.” 

Tiffany’s home state of Wisconsin was home to anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 wolves before European settlement, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). But the species was all but extirpated from the Badger State thanks to a government-sponsored bounty program that ran from 1865 to 1957.

These days, the Upper Midwest is home to healthy wolf populations. Minnesota has close to 3,000 while Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has upwards of 700. In 2022, WDNR put its gray wolf population at somewhere between 812 and 1,193 individual animals grouped into approximately 288 separate packs. The state has held public wolf hunts in recent years, but not since February 2021, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. One of Wisconsin’s wolf season was fraught with controversy after hunters harvested more wolves than WDNR biologists had anticipated.

Wolves are a hot-button topic in Colorado as well, which has a co-sponsor on the bill in Rep. Lauren Boebert of Rifle. Boebert has crusaded against the gray wolf’s status as an ESA-protected species since being elected in late 2020. A few months before she took office, Colorado passed a statewide ballot initiative that mandated the release of transplanted wolves along the Centennial State’s Western Slope. That plan has since been implemented by Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW), and the state is now home collared wolves captured from packs in Oregon as well as wolves that migrated in on their own from nearby Wyoming.

“Out-of-touch Denver and Boulder leftists voted to reintroduce wolves in Colorado,” Boebert wrote in her press release touting the passage of HR764. “Farmers and ranchers are powerless to defend their livestock from wolf attacks and there have been 8 confirmed wolf livestock killings in April alone. Rather than celebrating the gray wolf recovery success story, leftists want to cower to radical environmentalists and keep them on the Endangered Species Act list forever.”

Before Boebert and Tiffany’s bill passed the House, the Biden Administration had already issued a statement of opposition, saying that “Congress shouldn’t play a role in determining whether a species has recovered,” according to Time. Sources familiar with the legislation tell Field & Stream that HR764 is unlikely to get a stand-alone vote in the Senate. And that if it’s considered at all, it would have to be tacked on to an existing appropriations bill.

For its part, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), which holds jurisdiction over ESA-protected wolf populations, says gray wolves aren’t in danger of going extinct any time soon.

Related: Wolf Management Might Be Keeping Woodland Caribou from Going Extinct in Canada, Study Suggests

“Gray wolves are listed under the ESA as endangered in 44 states, threatened in Minnesota, and under state jurisdiction in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, portions of eastern Oregon and Washington, and north-central Utah,” USFWS wrote in a February press release announcing a wolf population status review and a new National Recovery Plan for the species. “Based on the latest data as of the end of 2022, there were approximately 2,797 wolves distributed across at least 286 packs in seven states in the Western United States. This population size and widespread distribution contribute to the resiliency and redundancy of wolves in this region. The population maintains high genetic diversity and connectivity, further supporting their ability to adapt to future changes.”

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