With the survival of the gray wolf in question, the species was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1974. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the federal agency responsible for oversight of gray wolf recovery including the authority to list, reclassify, and delist the species from under the ESA.
Once a gray wolf population is delisted from the ESA, wolves within the geographical boundary no longer receive federal protections. The wolf management role is then transferred to state governments and politically appointed wildlife commissions. States can maintain their own conservation laws, but they are generally much weaker than the protections afforded to wolves by being on the federal endangered species list.
The legality of a gray wolf population delisting may be challenged through litigation. When the litigation is successful, the delisting is overturned by the court, and federal protections for gray wolves are restored.
Beginning in the early 2000s, the USFWS made numerous attempts to delist recovering gray wolf populations. However, the delistings were continually challenged and overturned in the courts, and federal ESA protections for gray wolves were restored.
In order to bypass judicial review, U.S. congressional lawmakers began to draft bills that would remove gray wolves from under federal ESA protection. While no standalone bill passed, in 2011, a rider sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Ohio) was added to a must-pass federal budget bill. The rider directed the USFWS to delist the Northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves, without Wyoming. When the bill was signed into law by President Obama on April 15, it marked the first time Congress legislatively stripped ESA protections for a species rather than follow the scientific process. Judicial review was prohibited, which meant the delisting could not be challenged in the courts. The USFWS delisted the Wyoming wolf population in 2017, and the entire Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population was now stripped of its federal ESA protections.
In November 2020, the USFWS delisted nearly all gray wolves nationwide. The delisting was challenged through litigation and nullified in a court ruling on Feb. 10, 2022. Gray wolves — outside of the previously delisted Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population — are now protected under the federal ESA as threatened in Minnesota and endangered in the remaining states.
Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming wolves remain state-managed and aggressively hunted. Each year, trophy hunters and trappers kill hundreds of wolves in the region. State hunting and trapping regulations allow Yellowstone wolves, studied and tracked by scientists, to be legally killed as soon as they cross the park boundary.
In the 2021 legislative session, Idaho and Montana passed laws with the intention of eradicating 85-90% of their respective statewide wolf populations. Wolf conservation groups filed a petition to restore federal protections to the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population citing concerns about the threat of aggressive hunting policies to the decades of progress towards recovery. The USFWS initiated a full status review, but missed its own deadline to report the results. In response to the missed deadline, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, and Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against USFWS.
Without federal protections in place, states have passed laws to systematically reduce wolf populations to bare minimums with no guarantee of sustainability. Delisting goes against science and threatens the future of America's gray wolves.
The compelling story of our namesake 06, the charismatic alpha female beloved by wolf watchers from around the world. Blakeslee also tells the larger story of the cultural clash within this country. 2017