Wyoming Wolves Stripped of Endangered Species Act Protection — Shoot-on-Sight Policy Restored

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(EnviroNews Wyoming) — Gray wolves (Canis lupus) will no longer be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the state of Wyoming. That was the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, on March 3, 2017, which also happened to be World Wildlife Day.

In August of 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined wolves were no longer a threatened species in the Cowboy State, and removed them from the endangered list. But conservation organizations sued, and in 2014 U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson sided with the groups, overturning USFWS’s decision, and rejecting Wyoming’s proposed wolf management plan — a plan that included being able to shoot wolves on sight in “predator zones” (which cover most of the state).

Judge Berman had originally ruled that Wyoming’s strategy was unscientific and unenforceable, but the appeals court, in its reversal, said federal officials did their due diligence in evaluating and approving Wyoming’s proposal.

“The record demonstrates that the [USFWS] reasonably and adequately responded to concerns about the reliability of Wyoming’s management plan,” the court said in its opinion, though the reinstitution timeline for Wyoming’s plan isn’t yet clear.

In her 2014 ruling, Berman said it was “arbitrary and capricious” for USFWS to rely upon Wyoming’s “non-binding promises to maintain a particular number of wolves when the availability of that specific numerical buffer was such a critical aspect of the delisting decision.”

Regarding the “number of wolves” Berman was referring to, Wyoming currently has around 400, a marked improvement from a time only 35-years-ago when the critters had been hunted to near extinction in the lower 48 states. But the painstaking efforts to bring America’s wild canine back took decades, and all that progress could be quickly wiped away if hunting wolves for sport is allowed once again. As it stands now, the iconic predators exist on only 10 percent of their historic range.

Wyoming Wolf Hunter

Wyoming’s plan requires maintaining only 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs in the whole state. So basically, 300 wolves are now fair game for anyone to kill at any time in the predator zones — no license required.

In an “unprecedented move” by Congress in 2011, lawmakers delisted wolves in Idaho and Montana — states that both maintain “liberal hunting and trapping seasons tied to wolves,” reported Laura Zuckerman for Reuters. Still, both those states have plans that require 150 wolves be left alive — 50 more than would be required by the Cowboy State’s plan.

Wyoming Wolf Hunter

“Wyoming’s wolf management plan, [treats] the animals as vermin,” reported Darryl Fears of the Washington Post, and “[allows] the unlimited slaughter of wolves,” in most of the state.

Pro-industry Governor Matt Mead (R-WY) applauded the court’s decision saying, “This is the right decision for wolves and for Wyoming,” while on the other hand, environmentalists, conservationists and animal lovers alike, are still fuming and are evaluating what can now be done to protect the animals.

“In a terrible and heartbreaking ruling, wolves in Wyoming have lost the consistent and cohesive protections of [the] Endangered Species Act,” the Western Watersheds Project said on its Facebook page. “The State of Wyoming’s wolf plan allows unlimited killing (without even a license!) across 85% of the state, the opposite of wildlife management.”

Wolf Hunting in Wyoming

“Wyoming’s plan to shoot wolves on sight throughout most of the state was a bad idea when it was proposed, and it’s a bad idea now,” said Rebecca Riley, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

NRDC, alongside Earthjustice, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity were the plaintiffs in the 2014 case. Tim Preso, an attorney for Earthjustice who represented the coalition of groups, said in celebratory fashion at the time, “The court has ruled and Wyoming’s kill-on-sight approach to wolf management throughout much of the state must stop.” But now, it appears wolves will be back on the menu year-round for hunters — even though it’s unlikely they will consume any of the meat.

Protect Wyoming Wolves — Billboard Ad by: ProjectWolf.org

Wyoming’s “promises to protect wolves don’t amount to much” considering the state’s gung-ho hunting policies, said Noah Greenwald, Endangered Species Director for the Center for Biological Diversity. Greenwald said wolves will now “have to make it through the shoot-on-sight zone” on their journey to the southern Rockies in search of a mate or new territory.

With only 400 Wyoming wolves, up against thousands of redneck yokels licking their chops at the chance to blast and kill one at the first available opportunity simply for fun, people are now left to wonder: how long will it be before agencies, environmental non-profits and concerned citizens are scrambling to protect wolves in Wyoming yet again?

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