US Senators seek to remove federal protection for the gray wolf

Credit: John E. Marriott

Senators from Wisconsin and Wyoming have introduced bipartisan legislation which would return gray wolf management to the states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.  It also reaffirms the current delisting of wolves from the Endangered Species Act in Wyoming.  This bill follows a recent decision from a federal court in California which returned the gray wolf to federal protection in much of the lower-48 states. 

Adrian Wydeven, a retired Wisconsin DNR biologist, is not surprised by the recent action.  “When wolves were relisted last month, I [believed] legislative delisting would likely be attempted in the Great Lakes region as it had occurred in the Northern Rockies,” Wydeven said. Unlike federal agencies, Congress can limit the authority of courts to review its delisting action – as is the case with the current bill.  

This legislative effort comes as the Wisconsin DNR is currently working to finalize a new Wolf Management Plan.  The last state wolf management plan was approved in 1999, with some slight modifications added in 2007. Wisconsin abandoned work to rewrite the plan in 2015. This bill also follows the February 2021 wolf hunt during which 218 wolves were killed, 83% more than the state quota allowed.  Per Wisconsin law, anytime the gray wolf is not under federal or state protection, the state is mandated to hold a wolf hunt.

Legislative delisting is not new.  In 2011, Congress required the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reinstate the decision to delist wolves in the Northern Rockies, except for Wyoming.  In 2012, the agency  did delist wolves in Wyoming; however, this rule was vacated by a federal district court in 2014 and later reinstated by a federal appeals court in 2017.  Prior to the reinstatement, Wyoming’s congressional delegation had sought to legislatively require delisting of wolves in the state.  The newly introduced legislation, co-sponsored by both Wyoming Senators, does not allow for  judicial review of the decision to delist the animal in Wyoming.  In 2018, then-Congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI) sponsored the Manage Our Wolves Act which sought to remove federal protections for gray wolves in the lower-48 states.  The legislation passed the House of Representatives but was not taken up in the Senate.

How the recent bill’s introduction may be leveraged for political purposes remains an open question. While bipartisan, it comes just months ahead of the 2022 midterm election in which Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) is the only co-sponsor on the ballot. His challenger will be determined in the August 2022 primary.

Those interested in learning more or contacting sponsoring Senators can do so via the following links: Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) and Senator Cynthia Lummis ( R-WY).

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