[2/22/22] Gray Wolves Once Again Protected

Posted in Environment

Gray wolves, including those living in and around the Methow Valley, are once again protected as an endangered species under federal law after a federal judge last week reversed a rule that removed protections for the wolves in the lower 48 states.

In a ruling February 10th, a U.S. District Court judge ordered the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to resume recovery efforts for gray wolves and restored their designation as a species threatened with extinction under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The judge said U.S. Fish & Wildlife had not adequately considered threats to the survival of the gray wolf species in western states and other parts of the country when the agency decided to remove protections in the fall of 2020.

In Washington, gray wolves are listed as endangered throughout the state under state law. But following the U.S. District Court decision, federal protections are now reinstated for wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington, placing management of wolves in the Methow Valley under federal jurisdiction.

The wolves in the eastern third of the state will continue to be managed at the state level by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife , while U.S. Fish & Wildlife will manage wolves in the rest of the state.

Under the state’s Wolf Management and Conservation Plan, protections can be lifted when wolves are considered to be recovered, which is determined by population, distribution and reproduction.

According to Julia Smith, wolf policy lead at Fish and Wildlife, of the 29 known wolf packs in Washington, 23 reside in the eastern third of the state where wolves have not been federally listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 2011.

The Methow Valley has three known wolf packs that occupy territory in and around the valley, and is home to the longest existing wolf pack in the state – the Lookout Pack – which was discovered in 2008 and was the first known resident pack in Washington since wolves were essentially eliminated throughout the state by the early 1900s.

In deciding to remove protections from gray wolves around the country in 2020, the Fish & Wildlife Service had reasoned that because wolf populations have recovered in the Great Lakes states, wolves in other parts of the country could be removed from protections.

In his decision, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey S. White found “the Service did not adequately consider threats to wolves outside of these core populations” and “avoided assessing the impact of delisting on those wolves.” The most recent data from federal and state wildlife agencies show an estimated 132 wolves in Washington, 173 in Oregon, and fewer than 20 in California, according to a news release from Cascadia Wildlands, one of several organizations participating in the lawsuit.