Instead of applauding yet another success of the Endangered Species Act in providing for the recovery of the previously threatened Gray Wolf population in the lower-48 states, many environmental organizations and tribes are decrying the delisting of the species.
On Thursday, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced the delisting of the species, calling it a remarkable comeback story that had achieved all established recovery goals. But this story is far from over.
Environmental organizations have already announced that they will challenge the rule in court, despite the fact that the rule has yet to be formally published in the federal register.
“Mountain States Legal Foundation will always advocate to uphold the original intent of the Endangered Species Act, which requires the federal government return management of a species back to the states when that species meets all objective recovery criteria,” said Cody J. Wisniewski, an attorney with Mountain States Legal Foundation. “The gray wolf is no different.”
The ESA, enacted in 1973, was seemingly a well-intentioned piece of legislation. It sought to allow the federal government to aid states with the recovery of endangered and threatened species within a state’s jurisdiction, and then to return full management of that species back to the state upon recovery.
But after nearly 50 years of litigation and legal precedent, the ESA is now used by environmental organizations and tribes to lock up large swaths of federally managed lands, preventing agricultural and resource use and development.
“Allowing states to decide how to manage the gray wolf populations in their borders allows the state to tailor management to the needs of the people that actually live and work in these areas,” added Wisniewski. “Local officials are better able to assess the needs of their residents and respond to their concerns than the federal government when it comes to wolf management.”
The aggressive penalties for a “take” of a listed species, even an apex predator like the gray wolf, are so severe that ranchers and farmers are often afraid to defend their own lives for fear of being prosecuted by the federal government. These penalties also prevent agricultural operations and natural resource development from being able to engage in many activities on federally managed lands because of their inability to “disturb” the habitat or the species. Listed species can pose massive roadblocks to development of the United States’ valuable resources or the raising and growing of our own food.
Mountain States Legal Foundation has a history of defending delistings and advocating for state-level management of recovered species and will continue to fight to ensure that the federal government maintains an appropriately limited role when addressing those species—including the gray wolf.