WASHINGTON, August 2, 2017 - Gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes region will continue to be protected under the Endangered Species Act because of a ruling Tuesday by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court upheld a 2014 district court decision that found the Fish and Wildlife Service wrongly delisted the wolves in 2011 after creating a new population segment for the predators that includes Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, and portions of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
In its decision, the court gave both sides – the states that sought to delist the wolves, and the Humane Society of the U.S. and other plaintiffs who sought to retain their federally protected status – something to cheer about. The court said the FWS could carve out a geographically distinct population from a larger species listing and delist the segment, but found that FWS had not presented a valid case for doing so. For one thing, the service did not properly consider the wolves’ historical range in determining whether they should remain listed. When it reconsiders its delisting decision, the court said FWS will have to wrestle with issues long pressed by environmentalists, such as the breadth of the wolves’ range throughout North America. However, the court also said that in its delisting rule, FWS adequately explained how state plans allowing hunting of wolves were not a threat to the animals’ continued existence.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Public Lands Council criticized the decision, saying “At well over 4,000 wolves, it is abundantly clear that the population in the region is recovered and thriving.” NCBA and PLC called on Congress “to take action to carry out the proper delisting of the gray wolf.” A provision in the fiscal 2018 Interior/Environment spending bill would delist wolves in the region and prevent judicial review of that decision.