DeFazio Defends the Nation’s Wolves

Although only 46 wolves live in Oregon, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently recommended the removal of gray wolves from the protection of the Endangered Species Act in the lower 48 states.

In response, Rep. Peter DeFazio sent a letter to Dan Ashe, the director of USFWS, asking for the continued protection of gray wolves. The letter, sent on March 6 and co-signed by 52 other representatives, stated that “wolves have only just begun to return to portions of the Pacific Northwest, California, southern Rocky Mountains and Northeast and continue to need protection in these areas if they are to truly recover.”

In a recent Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) panel, panelists discussed the current status of gray wolves in the U.S. and their need for continued protection.

“There are more human beings in this room than wolves in the entire state of Oregon,” Michael Robinson said to an audience of about 60 people at the March 2 wolf panel. Robinson, a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, described the bloody history of wolf eradication.

Starting in the 1860s, mass hunting in the U.S. drastically decreased the prey animals for wolves, such as bison and elk. When wolves turned to livestock as an alternative, a nationwide federal effort launched into action, with the primary goal of eradicating wolves from the U.S.

By the 1970s, when wolves were first listed under the Endangered Species Act, the wolf population had diminished to around 1,000 wolves in the entire country, according to Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).

“So the question is, are wolves now recovered?” Greenwald said. The CBD doesn’t think so. Two wolf populations lost federal protection in 2011, and since then, hunters and trappers have killed more than 700 wolves in Minnesota alone.

In the Northern Rockies, state governments plan to reduce their wolf populations by 30 to 40 percent. “And there really is no justification for that beyond the fact that people have a prejudice against wolves,” Greenwald said.

DeFazio’s letter shared Greenwald’s concerns and urged Director Ashe “to continue to work towards greater recovery of this important and popular species.” The USFWS is expected to make a decision about the status of wolves in the next few months.