The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday gave notice to states that are allowing liberal wolf hunting and trapping seasons that their actions may warrant wolves going back on the federal endangered species list.
The agency said that it will consider a petition to relist wolves as endangered in the western U.S. and Rocky Mountains. The petition was submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Sierra Club.
The agency stopped short of granting an emergency petition to immediately relist wolves as federally endangered. But federal officials effectively agreed with the environmental groups that some western states — especially Idaho and Montana — have enacted policies that allow too much wolf killing.
“Based on our review, we find that the petitions present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned actions may be warranted,’’ the agency said in its notice released Wednesday.
Federal law requires the agency to make a final decision by May 26, 2022, one year from when the petition was filed.
While the action doesn't directly affect wolves in the Great Lakes region, wolf supporters say the federal action should put Wisconsin on notice after a February wolf hunt killed more than 200 wolves in 72 hours and with Wisconsin planning to allow for the killing of up to 300 more wolves in November.
“Today’s decision by the Service is a step toward recognizing serious new threats to wolves from hostile state management policies, but it falls short in granting the emergency protection that wolves need right now,” said Bonnie Rice, senior representative with Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, in a statement. “The goal of Montana and Idaho’s extreme new laws is to decimate wolf populations in the northern Rockies. It makes no sense to allow wolves to be driven back to the brink of extinction and reverse over 40 years of wolf recovery efforts.”
The decision comes one day after groups representing more than 200 Native American tribes asked the Biden administration to reconsider its stand on wolves. The administration in August said it would not overturn the Trump-era move to end federal protections for wolves. That move in January handed wolf management back to individual states and tribes. But tribal officials have opposed the delisting and are calling on the Biden administration to honor treaty and trust obligations that require consultation with the tribes on protection and management of gray wolves.
Wolf supporters say Idaho’s new law allows killing of up to 90% of the state’s wolf population. It calls for private contractors to kill wolves, allows hunters and trappers to kill an unlimited number of wolves and permits trapping year-round on private lands across the state. People can also chase wolves with hounds or run them over with all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.
Montana’s new laws could kill as many as 85% of the state’s wolf population. The state allows the use of snares, night hunting and bait to hunt and trap wolves. Hunters and trappers can kill up to 10 wolves each and can be reimbursed for their expenses killing wolves through a new bounty program.
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Wisconsin hunters are allowed to use tracking hounds, traps and night-vision goggles to take wolves during seasons. Wisconsin’s planned November hunt will occur nine months after an unprecedented February wolf season when hunters and trappers killed 216 wolves in less than three days, 82% above the quota of 119 wolves set by the DNR. That total harvest during the February court-ordered wolf season means hunters and trappers killed nearly 20% of Wisconsin's estimated total wolf population of about 1,100 in less than 72 hours.
Minnesota, with by far the most wolves of any state outside Alaska, so far has delayed any action on wolf hunting or trapping until at least 2022.