Gray wolves will regain federal protection across 44 of the lower 48 states, following a court ruling Thursday that struck down a Trump Administration decision to take the animals off the endangered species list.
Senior District Judge Jeffrey S. White of United States District Court for the Northern District of California, who was nominated by President George W. Bush, found that the Fish and Wildlife Service, in declaring wolf conservation a success and removing the species from federal protection, did not adequately consider threats to wolves outside of the Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains where they have rebounded most significantly.
“Wolves need federal protection, period,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney at Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization that has helped lead the legal fight. “The Fish and Wildlife Service should be ashamed of defending the gray wolf delisting.”
A spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service said the agency was reviewing the decision.
Wolves in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho will remain unprotected because they were delisted by Congress. Wolves in New Mexico are considered a separate population from the gray wolves that regained protection on Thursday.
Since federal protection for wolves ended, wolf hunting has increased sharply in certain states. The Trump Administration’s decision to delist came despite concerns from some of the scientists who performed the independent review that is required before the Fish and Wildlife Service can remove a species from federal protection.
Wolves were among the first animals shielded by the 1973 Endangered Species Act.
Before the arrival of Europeans, they flourished from coast to coast in North America, living in forests, prairies, mountains and wetlands. Two centuries of eradication campaigns drove them to near disappearance. By the mid-20th century, perhaps 1,000 were left in the lower 48 states, mainly in northern Minnesota.
Wolves’ numbers began to rebound after they were placed under federal protection in the 1960s. In the mid-1990s, the Fish and Wildlife Service took a bold new step, relocating 31 wolves from Canada into Yellowstone National Park. They multiplied quickly, and by 2020 about 6,000 wolves ranged the western Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains, with small numbers spreading into Oregon, Washington and California.