A coalition of wildlife conservation groups on Thursday notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of its intent to file a lawsuit challenging the recent decision to strip gray wolves of Endangered Species Act protection across nearly all the lower 48 states.
Six conservation groups represented by Earthjustice — the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Oregon Wildlife, National Parks Conservation Association and the Humane Society of the United States — sent the notice letter Thursday.
The Endangered Species Act requires the coalition now wait 60 days before filing its lawsuit with the court.
The federal move to delist wolves, first reported in the News Tribune on Oct. 28, is scheduled to take effect Jan. 4, handing control of the carnivores back to state and tribal resource agencies.
But the groups say the government’s actions are premature and too broad, failing to account for the fact wolves still haven’t been restored to enough of their original range.
“The Trump administration shut the door to wolf recovery, even as the science shows that wolves are too imperiled and ecologically important to abandon,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “We’re taking the fight to the courts, and I’m confident we can restore the Endangered Species Act’s lifesaving protections for gray wolves across the nation.”
Wolves received federal protections in 1975 when only about 500 remained, all of them in Northeastern Minnesota. There are now about 6,000 wolves in the Lower 48, including about 2,700 in Minnesota, more than 1,000 in Wisconsin and more than 500 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The animals were delisted in 2011, but a court order has placed them back under federal protection since 2014.
Livestock groups and some hunting organizations said the time is long past to begin culling wolf numbers. But the groups said allowing states to manage the animals, including allowing baiting and trapping, threatens to reduce their numbers again.
“The decision to remove critical protections for still-recovering gray wolves is dangerously short-sighted, especially in the face of an extinction and biodiversity crisis,” Bonnie Rice, senior representative for Sierra Club's Our Wild America Campaign, said. “We should be putting more effort into coexistence with wolves and reinstating endangered species protections critical for their full recovery.”
The notice letter states that removal of the gray wolf’s federal protection is unlawful because the species has not recovered in the Pacific Northwest, the southern Rockies and elsewhere that scientists identify as “significant” habitat for the wolf.
The letter also asserts that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision contradicts the most current science regarding wolf conservation and taxonomy and ignores concerns raised in peer reviews by the nation’s top wolf scientists.