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Biden administration considers restoring protection for wolves; cites Montana, Idaho hunts

Both Idaho and Montana passed laws that greatly expanded the trapping and killing capabilities for wolf hunters, with Idaho going so far as to allow the killing of up to 90% of the state’s wolf population. Montana’s wolf-hunting season began Wednesday — the same day the feds made their wolf status review announcement. (USFWS)

(CN) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that it would be renewing their evaluation on the potential need for federal protections for wolves following a push from environmental groups to restore safeguards for the predators.

Wednesday’s announcement comes roughly a year after conservationists urged the federal government to reimpose federal protections for wolves after they were removed by the feds in the final months of the Trump administration. The safeguards were lifted when gray wolf populations resurged in many parts of the country after decades of effort went into rebuilding wolf groups that were decimated by the aggressive wolf-killing customs of the early 20th century.

But some conservationists claimed the feds jumped the gun and have petitioned the Biden administration to restore the Endangered Species Act protections that were rolled back by President Joe Biden’s predecessor.

Despite signaling back in August that the federal government would not walk back the protection removals, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that they would start a formal status review for gray wolves to determine if the safeguards should be put in place once more.

The feds stopped short, however, of granting environmentalists’ request to impose emergency protections for wolves, opting to allow the current legal status for wolves to continue while the review process plays out in the coming months.

Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, says that while the feds’ decision to take a fresh look at wolf protections is a welcome one, it does not address the surge of wolf-killing laws recently passed by some states that could potentially undo decades of wolf-recovery progress.

“I’m hopeful that wolves will eventually get the protection they deserve, but the Fish and Wildlife Service should have stopped the wolf-killing now,” Zaccardi said in a statement. “Anti-wolf policies in Idaho and Montana could wipe out wolves and erase decades of wolf recovery. We’re glad that federal officials have started a review, but wolves are under the gun now so they need protection right away.”

The laws that appear to have pushed the federal government towards starting the review process, most notably the ones passed by Idaho and Montana in the past year, have come under heavy fire by some who claim they afford too many allowances to wolf hunters.

Both Idaho and Montana passed laws that greatly expanded the trapping and killing capabilities for wolf hunters, with Idaho going so far as to allow the killing of up to 90% of the state’s wolf population. Idaho also gave hunters the right to track wolves after hours with the help of night-vision googles and ATVs. Idaho’s new measures took effect earlier this summer, while Montana’s wolf-hunting season officially kicks off Wednesday — the same day the feds made their wolf status review announcement.

Bonnie Rice, senior representative with Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, said these laws are expressly designed to send wolf populations numbers plummeting and that the feds still have a lot of work to do in ensuring the safety of the famed animals.

“Today’s decision by the Service is a step toward recognizing serious new threats to wolves from hostile state management policies, but it falls short in granting the emergency protection that wolves need right now,” Rice said. “The goal of Montana and Idaho’s extreme new laws is to decimate wolf populations in the northern Rockies. It makes no sense to allow wolves to be driven back to the brink of extinction and reverse over 40 years of wolf recovery efforts.”