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Field reports: Conservation groups file to stop wolf delisting in Lower 48

A split Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted several highly contested new wolf hunting and trapping regulations Friday, the culmination of months of debate that has drawn national and even international attention.  (US Fish and Wildlife Service/courtesy)
A split Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted several highly contested new wolf hunting and trapping regulations Friday, the culmination of months of debate that has drawn national and even international attention. (US Fish and Wildlife Service/courtesy)
Staff and wire reports

A coalition of wildlife conservation groups Thursday notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of its intent to file a lawsuit challenging the recent decision to strip gray wolves of Endangered Species Act protection across nearly all the lower 48 states.

The challenged delisting rule, which becomes effective Jan. 4, will permit trophy hunting and trapping of wolves again in the Great Lakes states. Delisting will slow or completely halt recovery of wolves in most of their former range. The new rule excludes Mexican gray wolves, which are listed separately under the Endangered Species Act.

“The Trump administration shut the door to wolf recovery, even as the science shows that wolves are too imperiled and ecologically important to abandon,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re taking the fight to the courts, and I’m confident we can restore the Endangered Species Act’s lifesaving protections for gray wolves across the nation.”

“The decision to remove critical protections for still-recovering gray wolves is dangerously short-sighted, especially in the face of an extinction and biodiversity crisis,” said Bonnie Rice, senior representative for Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign. “We should be putting more effort into coexistence with wolves and reinstating endangered species protections critical for their full recovery.”

Thursday’s notice letter states removal of the gray wolf’s federal protection is unlawful because the species has not recovered in the Pacific Northwest, the southern Rockies and elsewhere that scientists identify as “significant” habitat for the wolf.

The notice letter also asserts that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision contradicts the most current science regarding wolf conservation and taxonomy and ignores concerns raised in peer reviews by the nation’s top wolf scientists.

“It’s perverse to declare wolves fully recovered when they exist in only a fraction of their historic range,” Adkins said. “I’m hopeful that the court will set things right, but in the meantime hundreds of wolves will die, and it will take years to undo the damage done. It’s heartbreaking and senseless.”

Six conservation groups represented by Earthjustice – the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Oregon Wildlife, National Parks Conservation Association and the Humane Society of the United States – sent the notice letter.

The Endangered Species Act requires that the coalition now wait 60 days before filing its lawsuit with the court.

Colorado approves gray wolf reintroduction

An unprecedented state ballot initiative requiring wildlife officials to reintroduce endangered gray wolves in Colorado passed Tuesday’s election with a 20,000-vote majority and hundreds of pro-wolf precincts left to be counted. Opponents conceded Friday that the measure has passed.

Proposition 114 requires Colorado Parks and Wildlife to develop a wolf restoration and management plan based on science and statewide public hearings. Reintroduction to areas west of the Continental Divide must begin by Dec. 31, 2023.

“This is a great victory for wolves coming on the heels of Trump’s illegal action to remove federal protection, and it will help restore the natural balance in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The people of Colorado have helped turn the page on a brutal chapter of our history that saw wolves exterminated across the West.”

WDFW accepting applications for grants

Beginning Dec. 1, WDFW will begin accepting grant applications for volunteer projects that benefit the state’s fish and wildlife resources and the public’s enjoyment of them.

WDFW estimates having approximately $867,000 available for grants funded through the state’s Aquatic Land Enhancement Account (ALEA) for projects occurring between July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2023. Applicants should be aware that the ALEA program might see its funding reduced or eliminated as part of budget reductions due to decreased state revenues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The final amount available will be subject to legislative appropriation and won’t be finalized until the 2021 legislative session.

The program funds five major types of projects, although other project types might be considered. Project types include habitat restoration, scientific research/citizen science, public education and outreach, facility development and artificial fish production.

For more program information, including how to apply, visit the ALEA Grant Program website at wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/habitat-recovery/alea.

The application period ends Feb. 28.

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