On November 16, 2018, members of the House passed HB 6784, the Manage Our Wolves Act. The bill won with bipartisan support and a vote of 196-180. If passed by the Senate, gray wolves in the lower 48 states will lose federal protection and each state will be in charge of managing their wolves.
In the Rocky Mountain states where wolves were previously removed from federal protection hunting and trapping have caused the death of thousands of wolves. The recent shooting of Yellowstone wolf 926, daughter of the legendary ’06, as she left the safety of the park is only one example of the repercussions of no having legal safeguard for wolves.
If the Manage Our Wolves bill becomes law wolves in the Great Lakes states and other areas, including Oregon, will face the same fate. Also, wolves dispersing into new territories, such as Colorado and Utah, will have no federal protection, making already risky efforts to recolonize previous territories even more challenging.
In Oregon, wolves are still federally protected in the Western two-thirds of the state. We lost state protection for our wolves in 2015. But with passage of this bill all protections would be lost, including for OR-7’s Rogue pack in Southwestern Oregon.
We are way too early in the biological ball game for Oregon wolves to be in the hands of the state. Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild, in a series of recent emails, had this to say about the issue:
“Wolves stand alongside bald eagles and gray whales as one of America’s greatest conservation success story, but they’ve still got a long way to go before we can declare ‘Mission Accomplished.’ That’s especially true here in Oregon where we only have two known packs in the areas where they would lose protections (and only one – OR-7’s Rogue Pack has successfully raised pups to adulthood). Stripping wolves of federal protection would leave management in the hands of ODFW. ODFW is still using an outdated wolf plan and have clearly lost sight of their conservation mission. Increasingly, we’ve seen the state unable to stand up to extractive political interests or say no to those who want to see wolves killed.”
Another concern with HS 6784 is that it would would disallow any judicial review, which means the delisting could not be challenged in court. This is a violation of our basic rights and sets an alarming precedence that could be used with other species in the future.
More from Rob Klavins, “By the numbers, recovery has taken hold here in Northeastern Oregon, but Oregon is a long way from having a recovered population. Wolves still occupy only a small portion of their available habitat and number in the dozens when scientists say the state could support a population of well over 1,000.”
I also communicated with Amaroq Weiss, West Coast Wolf Advocate with Center for Biological Diversity about the status of wolves in California. As you may recall, California protects the gray wolf under its own Endangered Species Act (CESA), therefore wolves would remain safe even if federal protections are lost. However, according to Amaroq state protection for wolves was legally challenged in January 2017 by the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents the CA Cattlemens Association and the CA Farm Bureau. Center for Biological Diversity and other groups filed to defend against the lawsuit. This action was granted and oral arguments are set for January of next year.
Amaroq sounds hopeful that state protection will not be overturned in California, but she adds that, “...one never says never or always when it comes to lawsuits because ultimately it is up to the court to decide.” She also points out, “Wherever wolves live, wolf opponents will strive to not only halt recovery but to fight the progress that’s been made so far. That means that to protect what is so precious to us we must always be vigilant.“
This is certainly time to be vigilant. We still have a chance of stopping this bill. Please take a moment to call, email, or send a letter to your state Senator. This link is an easy way to find their contact info: U.S. Senate-Find Your Senator.
Some things to mention are the fact that the removal of any species from the Endangered Species List should be a science-based decision, not a political one. Wolves are still in the recovery phase, especially in the areas where they are federally protected.