Wolves In The West

Official Blog of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project

Why isn't the Endangered Species Act restoring the gray wolf?

Posted by Rocky Mountain Wolf Project | January 24, 2018 at 10:13 AM

For the last 75 years, the gray wolf has been missing from Colorado -- if you missed our blog post about how this keystone species was removed from the Rockies, check it out here.

In the decades following the extermination of the gray wolf, the state recognized the species as "endangered" per Colorado’s Nongame, Endangered, or Threatened Species Conservation Act.

Despite the clear intent of Colorado law, the act is best suited for management actions that promote the persistence of imperiled, but existing, species. This means the law works best to protect a small number of animals that remain in the habitat, even if that small population is threatened by human or environmental factors. But the law treats eradicated species much differently.

For species that have been eliminated from the wild, like the gray wolf, the law specifies that reintroductions must be authorized by the Colorado Legislature. Given the influence of anti-wolf organizations and industries with the state—the odds have been stacked against wolf reintroductions. But in recent years, Colorado has taken encouraging steps in an effort to bring back the wolf. For example, Colorado Parks and Wildlife appointed a Colorado Wolf Management Working Group and adopted their recommendations in 2005:

image one.pngGray wolves have also found protection under federal law. When Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973, it listed the gray wolf under ESA protections. Starting with around 1,000 wolves in Minnesota in the early 1970s, ESA-related actions have led to the restoration of roughly 6,000 wolves in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, and Washington, as of 2016. The Act also resulted in the establishment of a population of approximately 100 Mexican gray wolves in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona. A common-sense interpretation of the ESA concludes that Congress intended that the law’s recovery mandate to have wide geographic application. Not surprisingly, previous delisting actions and case law uphold this intent:

image two.pngDespite the successes of these protections, most biologists agree that relegating the gray wolf to 15 percent of its historical range and population levels--a mere shadow of historical abundance--fails to honor the intent of the ESA.

It is our ecological duty to ensure the survival of the gray wolf and together we can work to restore the missing howl to Colorado. Hearing that call again would serve as the last piece in a 40-year puzzle to re-establish the species from the High Arctic to Mexico.

If you're ready to join in our efforts to bring back the missing howl, click here to sign on to support the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project. 

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