The U.S. House of Representatives voted to move forward with a bill that would remove federal protections from gray wolves and limit judicial review of listing decisions.
The species was put under protection in the 70s. Since then, its population has grown to over 5,000 individuals with packs from northern California to Wisconsin. Congress debated the "Manage Our Wolves Act" introduced by a Wisconsin lawmaker. Several lawmakers said wolves are recovered and states should be allowed to manage them. That’s the case in Wyoming - here only the Yellowstone population is protected. Everywhere else in the state they can be hunted.
Wolves have been a source of economic frustration for farmers and ranchers. Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, said Wyoming’s plan has helped address the issue, so it’s good to see a step towards de-listing.
"All of these are populations that are basically doing very well. So, it just makes sense to address it on this broad basis," Magagna said.
He said Wyoming’s strategy has helped address wolf-livestock conflict.
But Brett Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity said gray wolves inhabit only a fraction of their native habitat, less than 10 percent, with fewer than 6,000 individuals total in the lower 48, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wolf populations in some states like Wyoming have met recovery goals, but Hartl said there’s still a need for recovery in the Southern Rockies and much of the west coast.
"This legislation would stop any recovery of wolves in those areas. Places where they used to live and where there’s tons of suitable habitat,” he said.
Hartl added wolves have an economic purpose, giving value to ecotourism. He also pointed to an ecological purpose. Their role in elk population reduction, Hartl said, has helped boost beaver populations and given new life to riparian areas.
The other part of the "Manage our Wolves Act" which passed 196-180 is to limit judicial review of removal decisions. Wyoming state Senator Larry Hicks from Baggs would be happy to see that change. He said the court’s ability to meddle in wildlife decisions is plaguing the country.
"The problem is we have Judicial discretion to list and delist based on biology. The problem is they’re not biologists. They have no training in wildlife biology," Hicks said.
Wyoming already follows a state plan that requires it to keep 150 wolves, but the judicial review decision would certainly affect the state. The bill still awaits a Senate vote which could happen soon during the lame duck session.