On March 15, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) issued a proposed rule to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. As we reported here, the Service announced its intention to issue the proposed rule earlier this month. According to the Service, the species’ population has rebounded considerably since it was originally listed in 1978, when the population estimate was approximately 1,000 individuals. Now, the Service estimates there is a Great Lakes meta-population with approximately 4,400 individuals, along with an eastern Canadian meta-population of 12,000-14,000 individuals (with connectivity to the Great Lakes population) and a Rocky Mountain/western Canadian meta-population with approximately 16,000 individuals that continues to expand into Oregon, Washington, and California. The Service believes these meta-populations are sufficiently stable to warrant delisting.
The Service has previously struggled with proposals to delist or reclassify the gray wolf. To that end, the proposed rule includes a chart identifying the numerous past legal and regulatory actions that have involved the gray wolf since the late 1970s.
Delisting the gray wolf will return wolf management to the states. The Service recognizes that the public response to this may be mixed, stating that it “expect[s] that some segments of the public will be more tolerant of wolf management at the State level because it may be perceived by some as more flexible then Federal regulation, whereas other segments may continue to prefer Federal management due to a perception that it is more protective.” According to the Service’s statement in the Federal Register, comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until May 14, 2019.