Court Rules Great Lakes Wolves Still Deserve Protection Under the Endangered Species Act

August 3, 2017 | by National Deer Alliance

On Tuesday, August 1, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld a lower court’s 2014 ruling that the gray wolf was improperly removed from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The gray wolf was declared an endangered species in 1974, and in 2011, after a rebound in numbers, “a sub-population of gray wolves inhabiting all or portions of nine states in the Western Great Lakes region of the United States,” was removed from federal protection, the court opinion notes.

After the removal in 2011, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filed suit alleging that the rule which removed the Western Great Lakes sub-population from ESA protection violated the ESA and the Administrative Procedure Act. In 2014, a U.S. District Court determined that “until the apex predators were deemed recovered throughout their entire historic range – which means from New York City to San Francisco – they could not be delisted,” the Sportsmen’s Alliance reported.

The Circuit Court agreed with HSUS and the District Court that "the government failed to reasonably analyze or consider two significant aspects of the rule—the impacts of partial delisting and of historical range loss on the already listed species." However, the Circuit Court agreed with the Sportsmen's Alliance and other pro-hunting groups that “the FWS has the ability to list and, as in this case, delist a species at the distinct population segment level,” according to the Sportsmen's Alliance.

So, if the FWS takes the necessary steps to analyze or consider the impacts of partial delisting and of historical range loss, a partial delisting of the Western Great Lakes gray wolf sub-population would be appropriate under the ESA. While the outcome was not exactly what sportsmen were hoping for, not all hope is lost. The National Deer Alliance outlines predator management as one of the organization’s key focus areas. It's a priority, not because we don't appreciate predators and the role they play in wildlife management; rather, we understand that careful management of predator populations is for the greater good of all wildlife, and people.

The ESA was designed to protect populations until they no longer need protected, and the Western Great Lakes sub-population of gray wolves no longer needs protection. That should be celebrated, not met with resistance. Our state wildlife agencies are more than capable of managing gray wolves, and regulated hunting and trapping of recovered sub-populations may be necessary. Otherwise, deer and other prey populations may suffer.