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Relisting decision: California judge overturned 2020 FWS rule to delist gray wolves

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Many organizations, agencies and producers are disappointed in a decision made by northern California’s U.S. District Judge Jeffery White, which returns gray wolves to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) list in 45 states. 

This decision overturns a 2020 rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to remove wolves from the ESA list in the lower 48 states.

According to White, the 2020 rule relied too heavily on thriving gray wolf populations near the Great Lakes and in the Rocky Mountains and did not take into consideration populations in the rest of the contiguous United States. 

“The FWS did not adequately consider threats to wolves outside of these core populations,” he wrote. “Instead, the FWS avoids analyzing these wolves by concluding, with little explanation or analysis, wolves outside of the core populations are not necessary to the recovery of the species.” 

Additionally, White said the 2020 delisting rule by FWS dismissed loss of habitat and historic range for gray wolves, noting the FWS “failed to adequately analyze and consider the impacts of partial delisting and of historical range loss on the already-listed species.”

The 2020 delisting did not apply to wolf populations in the northern Rocky Mountain Region – Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, a small corner of Utah and the eastern-third of Oregon and Washington – which were federally delisted in 2011. 

Ag groups disappointed
in decision

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Public Lands Council (PLC) expressed opposition to the ruling. 

“It’s disappointing environmental activism carried more weight than science in this case,” said NCBA Director of Natural Resources and PLC Executive Director Kaitlynn Glover. “Rather than ruling on due process and adherence to recovery criterion, Judge White chose to remand the rule and undermine one of the most successful ESA recovery stories in U.S. history.”

Glover continued, “This is just another attempt by activist groups to ignore the facts and rewrite the history of gray wolf recovery in the U.S.”

Since the species original ESA listing in 1974, the gray wolf population has seen tremendous recovery, exceeding recovery goals by 300 percent. 

“ESA should not be used as a permanent management tool,” Glover added. “This decision conflicts with the intended purpose of the act and removes critical management tools for wolves living alongside farmers and ranchers, threatening rural economies and vital land and natural resource conservation.”

American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Zippy Duvall noted, “AFBF is extremely disappointed in the ruling to return the gray wolf to the Endangered Species List. The gray wolf exceeded recovery goals and should be celebrated as an ESA success story.”

He continued, “The ESA is intended to promote species recovery and delisting, not to impose permanent protected status for animals now thriving. This ruling ignored ESA goals and threatens recovery efforts for other animals.”

Duvall added, “Farmers and ranchers share the goal of a healthy and thriving ecosystem. Management of the fully recovered gray wolf should be overseen by the states, which can best determine the most appropriate course of action for each region.”

Wolves in Colorado

This ruling is expected to impact Colorado’s current plan to reintroduce wolves following a ballot initiative, as species listed under the ESA are federally managed. However, the ruling complicates predation issues producers in northern Colorado are experiencing. 

Several producers near Walden, Colo. have lost cattle and a dog to a pack of eight wolves. This pack was formed after two adults moved south from Wyoming and had six pups in the spring of 2021. 

Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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