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March 14, 2019

Farmers, Ranchers Welcome Gray Wolf Delisting

The gray wolf is back.

Last week, acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced his intention to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list, effectively returning population management to the respective state wildlife agencies within the wolf’s range. U.S Fish and Wildlife spokesman, Gavin Shire, commented that the “Recovery of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is one our nation’s great conservation successes, with the wolf joining other cherished species, such as the bald eagle, that have been brought back from the brink with the help of the ESA.”

Gray wolves in the lower 48 states were pushed to the edge of extinction in the 19th and early 20th centuries as government-sponsored eradication programs targeted the predators in order to protect the sheep and cattle herds of western ranchers. Bounty programs for wolves continued well into the late 20th century before the Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973, when there were less than one thousand wolves in the continental U.S.

5,000 Wolves in the Lower 48

The lower 48 states now hold approximately 5,000 wolves. Reintroduction programs initiated by the U.S Fish and Wildlife alongside the U.S Forest Service in the Northern Rocky Mountains have, for example, grown wolf populations to at least 1,651 as of 2010.

While the Endangered Species Act was instrumental in reestablishing wolf populations in the American West, the restoration of predator species is a double-edged sword that directly leads to increased conflict between ranchers’ livestock and wolf packs. Veril Nelson, an Oregon rancher and co-chairman on the Cattleman’s Association Wolf Committee, is an outspoken supporter of delisting wolves, citing multiple confirmed attacks on livestock.

Delisting gray wolves is also supported by the American Farm Bureau, which agrees that species management should return to state wildlife agencies so that local communities can better prevent livestock loss. As wolf populations continue to grow, local wildlife agencies must be empowered with population management decisions as they are the governing bodies best positioned to understand the local environment and relationship between hardworking American ranchers and an increasing population of predators.

States Best Positioned to Manage

National Shooting Sports Foundation® has supported legislation and executive efforts to return gray wolf management to state wildlife agencies.

Delisting gray wolves at the state level along with the implementation of responsible hunting regulations has been an ongoing process across many western states. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, for example, delisted wolves in 2015 and allows lethal action to be taken against rogue packs as long as the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan is followed.

This plan, currently in phase three of implementation in Eastern Oregon, institutes rigorous guidelines to wolf hunting that require at least two confirmed attacks on livestock and proof of the failure of non-lethal deterrents. Phase one of this plan, which would be instituted in Western Oregon should wolves become delisted at the federal level, would require four confirmed livestock attacks within a six-month period. Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have also delisted wolves within their states and allow regulated hunting within appropriate seasons as with any other legally hunted game species.

Wolves were driven to the brink of extinction through a completely unregulated bounty system in the 19th and 20th century but recent approaches at population management at the state level clearly show that state wildlife agencies are the superior authority on conserving an appropriate gray wolf population.

Gray wolves have sufficiently recovered and no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act. The federal endangered species list was never meant to be responsible for protecting animal species in perpetuity and, for the gray wolf, it is time to reestablish the states as the responsible wardens of these predators.

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