Gray Wolves Get Their Day in Court

Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

This morning, oral arguments start for our lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to prematurely strip gray wolves of Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections in the contiguous United States.

The legal hearing is happening today in federal district court in Oakland, California—but the results of our lawsuit could have far-ranging implications for wolves.

The future of gray wolf recovery hangs in the balance. Will states be allowed to continue waging a war on wolves through hunting, baiting, bounties, trapping, and snaring? Or will wolves be granted the freedom to roam by being placed back on a path toward science-based recovery and coexistence?

I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that it’s been an arduous 12-months for wolf advocates. In November 2020, the Trump administration removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list, unleashing a torrent of bloodshed.

This February, in less than 60 hours, trappers and trophy hunters—some using hounds—killed at least 216 wolves in Wisconsin, sparking national and international outrage.

Meanwhile, earlier in 2021, Republican-dominated legislators in Idaho and Montana—where wolves have been delisted since 2011—felt so emboldened by nationwide delisting, that they passed a series of draconian laws that could result in the death of 1,800 wolves in just these two states by some of the most brutal and unethical means imaginable.

Within the first week of the Montana wolf hunting season, two female pups and a female yearling from Yellowstone’s Junction Butte pack—the most viewed wild wolf pack in the world—were killed just outside the park’s northern boundary.

How do we as wolf advocates deal with all this loss? We fight back. Incessantly. Relentlessly. Fiercely. We leave no stone unturned in defense of wolves.

Our voices are more powerful together. In just the past year, you and other Guardians have written President Biden, Interior Secretary Haaland, members of Congress, and other decision makers over 75,000 times—urging them to immediately relist all wolves across the country and shield them from persecution.

You and your fellow Guardians have given generously to our Wolf Defense Fund, providing us with the critical resources needed to wage this battle for wolves in the courts, in Washington, D.C., and at the state level across the West.

In addition to our lawsuit challenging nationwide wolf delisting, here’s what else we are doing to guard wolves together:

• In October, Guardians and our allies demanded that the state of Montana abide by terms it agreed to in a prior legal settlement for lynx, terms that could literally save the lives of hundreds of wolves this year. The settlement forced the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks to restrict wolf snaring on millions of acres of public lands west and south of Glacier National Park and north of Yellowstone National Park that otherwise would have been open to snaring of wolves.

• In July, Guardians and our allies petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore ESA protections for wolves across the West, including the Idaho and Montana populations.

• We launched a campaign this summer to overhaul state management of wolves across their range by providing resources that agencies can use to facilitate coexistence and stewardship, as well as tools for advocates to use to push for management reforms.

• In Colorado, Guardians is working to ensure that Colorado Park and Wildlife develop a management plan that ensures the highest protections for wolves that will be released in the state by the end of 2023, following the passage of Proposition 114, a ballot initiative requiring state reintroduction of wolves.

• We’ve been working closely with the Global Indigenous Council to educate the public and decision makers about the Wolf Treaty and promote their film Family, which appeals to Secretary Haaland to honor President Biden’s promises on tribal consultation and return ESA protections to the gray wolf.

Again, we can’t possibly do all this wolf work without your generous support, and for that we are incredibly grateful.

Stay tuned for updates about today’s court hearing challenging wolf delisting. We’re not sure how quickly the judge will rule, but please keep your paws crossed, and let out a howl if you need to. We are in this together, and together is how we will defend the wolves and the wild.

John Horning is the executive director of WildEarth Guardians, which protects and restores the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West.