Judgment Day Approaching for Wolves in America

The Biden Administration is fiddling while wolves die.

Yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced a “status review” would proceed in response to two petitions for emergency listing of wolves in the West – including one joined by Animal Wellness Actioin and the Center for a Humane Economy. The petitions were spurred by the plans of several states to wipe out the majority of their wolves before the end of the year. 

The timeline for final action on the USFWS action: years.

The timeline for wolf killing: starts today.

Yes, beginning today, hunters licensed by Montana can kill up to 10 wolves apiece. That means that if the famous packs inhabiting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem scamper outside the northern boundary of the national park and tread onto Forest Service lands, they can all be gunned down.  If they stray east into Idaho, there’s even more peril. Hunters there have no kill limits. Even shooting or trapping 50 wolves is allowed.

Wisconsin already conducted a spasm of killing this year – an unprecedented February hunt with hound hunters slaying most of the 220 wolves killing during the wolf mating season. The state is gearing up for a bigger assault in two months.

Enabled in part by an unwarranted federal delisting of wolves by the Trump Administration, the multi-state killing programs are cumulatively as violent and ruthless as the 19th-century slaughter that drove the wolves to the edge of extirpation in the lower 48 states. Only poisons seem to be off the table as a killing strategy. Nobody is spared – not the alpha males or females or even the newborns.

Federal lands should be closed to wolf killing

The federal government has more tools to protect wolves than exercising the killing restrictions imposed by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It is the largest landholder in the United States, and it controls core wolf habitats in Idaho, Montana, and Wisconsin. That’s why we are writing this week to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior and urging them to bar wolf hunting on 60 million acres of national forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holdings in those states. 

These land management agencies have a responsibility to safeguard wildlife and not allow vengeful and cruel practices to occur on those lands and leave ecosystems void of their most crucial actors. Idaho plans to reduce wolf numbers by 90 percent, Montana by at least 40 percent, and in Wisconsin by more than half. Federal lands are not playgrounds for people who want to strangle wolves with snares and allow them to be attacked by packs of dogs.

These wolf-killing strategies have been cooked up by politicians, and not even by the state wildlife agencies. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission opposed the legislature’s maneuver because it removed wildlife management decisions from the Department’s wolf experts. In Wisconsin, as well, the Natural Resources Board rejected the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s strong admonition not to conduct a winter hunt in early 2021 and then it dismissed a much smaller quota recommending for the coming fall hunt. Montana’s lawmakers adopted a hunting program that amounts to a bounty program, with a range of inhumane hunting methods at odds with state prohibitions against cruelty to animals and with widely touted codes of hunting ethics.

Tribes Call on Secretary Haaland to Weigh In

Interior Secretary Haaland can close off public lands to wolf killing. But she can do even more.

That’s why, this week, leaders of Native American tribes called on her to exercise her emergency authority to protect wolves and put them back on the list of federally endangered animals. They made plain in their statement that they have treaty rights and they have not been consulted on key wolf management decisions. 

Under the ESA, Secretary Haaland can take immediate action to list any species as endangered or threatened. These “emergency listing” provisions, which stay in effect for 240 days, are made when a species is “at significant immediate risk of survival.” Given the all-out attack on wolf populations in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes regions, where three states alone may eliminate half of the remaining wolf population in the lower 48 states before the end of the year, it’s an action the Secretary has a duty to undertake.

Seeking a Stay on Slaying in the Courts

Two weeks ago, Animal Wellness Action, the Center for a Humane Economy, Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife, Project Coyote, and 10 other groups sued the state of Wisconsin over its reckless and politically motivated wolf-killing plans.

The lawsuit alleges that the political appointees on the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board (Board) – including a hold-over member from the Scott Walker Administration who refuses to cede control of his seat – disregarded the recommendations from professional staff at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and chose to set an arbitrary and unsustainable kill level without regard for the health and well-being of the wolf population. 

Meanwhile, a month earlier, AWA joined with the Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and a coalition of 14 animal welfare and conservation groups, many centered in the Great Lakes region, and filed pleadings with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to submit an amicus (friend of the court) brief that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the “Service”) violated the ESA in eliminating federal protections. There are three separate lawsuits to restore federal protections for wolves in the Great Lakes states and in a good portion of the West, though a favorable ruling in these cases would not restore protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies.

Dan Ashe, who was U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director during most of President Obama’s two terms and who supported delisting wolves throughout most of the lower 48 states, declared that “the government must immediately reinstate protections” for wolves, noting that “an epidemic of cruelty toward wolves is erasing progress made to conserve this species.”

Wolves Are a Boon to Ecosystems and the Economy

There’s so much at stake here: The survival of the wolves in core areas in the United States. The recovery of wolves that the United States invested millions in over a 40-year period. The wolf reintroduction plan launched in the Clinton years and celebrated throughout the world. The economic and ecological gains that wolves have delivered from Yellowstone to the Boundary Waters to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Wolves pose no danger to people. The occasional killing of farm animals can be effectively managed through non-lethal mitigation measures and selective control, with ranchers made whole through compensation programs. 

A recently released study pointed out that wolves control deer populations and reduce the frequency of deer-auto collisions, saving human lives and reducing the economic costs of these sad and costly collisions.

The trophy killing of wolves bears no resemblance to hunting for food – a purpose for hunting that many people are familiar with. Nobody eats wolves. With only 5,000 or so in the vast reaches of the lower 48 states, there can be no argument that there are too many.

Once we understand those facts, we are left with an inescapable conclusion: the current killing plans are motivated by a irrational blend of hatred and vengeance and fear. Those are motivations our nation cannot abide or abet.

We need your help to protect these apex predators from being wiped out once again! Add your name to the letter we’re sending Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and urge to reinstate ESA protections for wolves!

Lastly, these efforts – petitions, lawsuits, campaigns, and more – to save wolves require significant resources. So please, chip in $10, $25, $50 or whatever you can to help us in our fight.


Wayne Pacelle is a New York Times bestselling author and President of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy. He has led efforts to pass 1,500 state laws for animals, more than 100 federal laws and amendments, 30 ballot initiatives, and 500 corporate agreements. He is a graduate of Yale University

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