By Elly Pepper, Natural Resources Defense Council
Senators from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming last week introduced the “War on Wolves Act (S. 164),” a companion bill to legislation introduced on January 10 in the House (H.R. 424) that would end federal protections for wolves and allow trophy hunting and trapping of the species in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
This legislation is problematic for a host of reasons. First, Congress should just not be interfering with decisions that have been made under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The law explicitly states that these decisions must be made based on the best available science—not by politicians.
Second, wolves in Wyoming would be vulnerable to an aggressive state killing plan if they’re delisted. Under the ESA, once a species is delisted, each state in which that species resides must abide by a management program intended to continue the species’ recovery. But Wyoming has no interest in the long-term health and recovery of wolves. If it were up to Wyoming, the state would implement a hostile management program that allows for unlimited shoot-on-sight killing of wolves across about 85% of the state. If Wyoming wolves are delisted by Congress, you can bet the state will green-light a horrible plan for wolves.
Third, the legislation would strip citizens of the right to challenge state management programs for wolves—like the one in Wyoming—in court. This is because the legislators behind this bill know that courts would find these plans illegal under the ESA, as they have in the past.
After being exterminated throughout most of the United States by the early 1900s, gray wolves began to repopulate the Upper Midwest and Northern Rockies following passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. In the mid-1990s, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone and the central Idaho wilderness. It was a historic and remarkable moment, in which Americans realized that, with proper planning and management, we can recover species we have driven to the brink of extinction. Now, these legislators are simply backtracking on this progress, once again putting at risk these cherished species in which our country has invested so much.