Relisting: The Never-Ending Fight Over the Gray Wolf

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MAR 3, 2022

Shed Antler - The Inside Spread

Category: Policy

Environmentalist that continued their fight to protect the gray wolves in the United States has succeeded for now. As the battle over gray wolves continues, the whole picture is rarely discussed. Instead, hot button issues are pressed repeatedly to change the narrative away from the truth.

A U.S Judge from the Northern District of California overturned a 2020 ruling in favor of delisting Gray Wolves, which led to a hunting season in Wisconsin, relisting will commence immediately. Five other lower 48 states are not affected by this ruling, all located in or near the Northern Rockies, including Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and Utah.

Why is the Gray Wolf Ready to be Delisted?

The Gray Wolf in the United States is a fantastic story of recovery and restoration. These Wolves indeed needed to be on the Endangered Species List. However, most recovery goals to delist the Gray Wolves have been met in recent years, so why is there so much consternation over the species?

As recently as the 1960s, most Gray Wolves had disappeared in the Upper Midwest in particular because of open season hunting on wolves and predator control programs. During this time, a recovery plan was created by each state to ensure that the Gray Wolves would flourish.

For example, Minnesota had a recovery goal of 1,250 to 1,400 Wolves. Wisconsin & Michigan settled on 100 or more Wolves. Other states like Washington set a delisting objective of 15 breeding pairs of Wolves for at least three years in several different areas throughout the state.

Objectives have been hit in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah (Panhandle), Washington, Oregon (East Wolf Management Zone). This is significant progress for the Gray Wolves; they expanded into other states like California and Colorado. The Gray Wolf is ready to be delisted in the United States because recovery goals have been met in several states where their natural habitat exists.

What is the Result of Delisting Gray Wolves?

Anti-hunting groups would want you to believe that people will begin hunting Wolves immediately and wipe them off the face of the planet in no time. However, this is not the case. State game agencies are filled with wildlife biologists that make well-informed decisions based on the health of animals, numbers, breeding partners, habitat, and much more.

With that knowledge in hand, game management strategies form to create laws, rules, seasons around species so that animals continue to flourish in our lands. The much controversial Wisconsin Wolf hunt in 2020 ended quickly, with 218 wolves taken in just two days, with the quota being 200. Even though 218 were killed in 2020, the Wisconsin DNR still raised the quota to 260 for 2021.

The state agency took a science-based approach to show no significant population change based on all relevant factors. The Wisconsin 2021 season was cut short because of the ruling; they had yet to hit the quota even though it began on November 6th, 2021. Other places like Minnesota planned to hold their first wolf hunt in 2022; however, the current ruling makes that option void as Wolves are federally protected.

Open season on Wolves doesn’t exist in this country and probably never will. Taking the Gray Wolf off the federal endangered species list allows the management to return to state game agencies to make educated decisions about Gray Wolf hunting.

When Will the Gray Wolves Be Removed from the List?

As of now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide if they will appeal the decision. The Gray Wolf has been taken off and then back on the federal ESA protections for the fourth time since 2003, so it is likely soon that Wolves again will be removed from the list and returned to state management.

Overall, that is the primary goal of the endangered species list. States and federal agencies develop a strategic management plans that requires a significant amount of scientific data. The program usually requires several years of management before conclusive evidence of a recovery.

Then the agencies present their findings to federal government officials that will listen typically at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Interior, and even the President.

Does this Mean there is No Hunting of Gray Wolves?

Currently, three states in the union are still allowed to hold a Gray Wolf hunt, and they all sit in the Northern Rocky Mountains. These states are Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, delisted by congressional action in 2011. Including these states, other areas have also been delisted in Oregon and Utah, but no hunting season have been implemented.

Each state has its own management goals, but these states have collaborated on Wolf management plans to keep Wolf populations healthy and allow hunting. The Northern Rockies continue to see growth in the Wolf population that has expanded to other neighboring states like Washington, Colorado, and California. In the future, Gray Wolf management will continue to be necessary, with an eye on delisting them across the lower 48.

What can Hunters do to Help?

First and foremost, get involved in conservation groups that work with state agencies on achieving management goals. Several groups are active in this fight, including the Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Hunter Nation, just to name a few.

Many hunter conservation groups are interested in Wolves not exclusively to be hunted but because it could lead to the decimation of other hunted populations. If not managed correctly, we could see a balance shifting too far in favor of the predator.

Hunting has been a dying breed until the last few years, so we must keep hunting and share our knowledge and skills with others. Whether it’s with a friend or our kids, do not let culture determine if hunting is a viable option for society moving forward. Hunting is a unique opportunity that allows us to experience nature and try to add some meat to the table.

To keep the future of hunting, it will take us all to be on a united front to protect the hunt, the animals, and the lands we use across this beautiful country.


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