Wildlife advocates pressed the Biden administration on Wednesday to revive federal protections for gray wolves across the Northern Rockies after Republican lawmakers in Idaho and Montana made it much easier to kill the predators.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society and Sierra Club filed a legal petition asking Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to use her emergency authority to return thousands of wolves in the region to protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Republican lawmakers pushed through legislation in recent weeks that would allow hunters and trappers to kill unlimited numbers of wolves in Idaho and Montana using aggressive tactics such as shooting them from ATVs and helicopters, hunting with night-vision scopes and setting lethal snares that some consider inhumane. Idaho’s law also allows the state to hire private contractors to kill wolves.
Wolves in the region lost federal endangered protections in 2011 under an act of Congress after the species had rebounded from widespread extermination last century.
Hundreds of wolves are now killed annually by hunters and trappers in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Yet the population remains strong — more than 3,000 animals, according to wildlife officials — because the wolves breed so successfully and can roam huge areas of wild land in the sparsely populated Northern Rockies.
The new laws had been opposed by some former wildlife officials and reflect an increasingly partisan approach to predator management in state houses that are dominated by Republicans. Supporters of restoring protections say the changes will tip the scales and drive down wolf numbers to unsustainable levels, while also threatening packs in nearby states that have interconnected populations.
They argue the changes violated the terms that allowed state management of wolves, and want Haaland to act before the looser hunting rules start going into effect in Idaho on July 1.
“The (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) Service was very clear that a change in state law that allowed for unregulated, unlimited take of wolves would set off the alarm,” said attorney Nicholas Arrivo with the Humane Society of the United States. “This is essentially an attempt to push the population down to the very minimum.”
Wednesday’s petition seeks to restore protections across all or portions of at least six states — Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and a small area of northern Utah. It steps up pressure on the administration over wolf populations that were declared recovered when President Joe Biden served as vice president under former President Barack Obama.
Biden also inherited a legal fight in the Midwest over the Trump administration’s removal of protections for wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.