Published since 1946
Court Ruling Puts Gray Wolves Back on ESA
On February 10, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White released a decision that reinstates federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. The decision does not include wolves in the Northern Rockies populations in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming because those were delisted by Congress in 2011. The delisting decision issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in November 2020 was based on the agency’s assessment that wolves were recovered in two large metapopulations – the Northern Rocky Mountains and the Great Lakes. The agency concluded that while the metapopulations occupy a fraction of their historical range, they are capable of sustaining viable wolf populations in the lower 48 states over time.
However, the Court concluded that “the Service failed to adequately consider the threats to wolves outside of the core populations in the Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains in delisting the entire species.” The Court also determined that the decision by the FWS in their final rule to include West Coast wolves with the Northern Rocky Mountains wolves was arbitrary and capricious because the agency did not do a “comprehensive evaluation of the best available science about the genetic relationships between the wolf populations.” In addition, the court determined that the agency’s interpretation of wolves being recovered in a significant portion of its range was arbitrary and capricious. The opinion states: “The Court’s conclusion that the Service failed to analyze wolves outside of the two core metapopulations means that it failed to adequately conduct a threats assessment for these wolves.”