The Trump administration plans to remove federal protections for all gray wolves nationwide (except the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf) by the end of 2020, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said recently.
“We’re working hard to have this done by the end of the year and I’d say it’s very imminent,” Aurelia Skipwith said in an interview with The Associated Press on Aug. 31.
In Washington state, wolves in the western two-thirds of the state are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Methow Valley, which has three wolf packs that occupy territory in and around the valley, is within the area where wolves are still under federal protection.
In 2011, wolves in the eastern third of Washington, roughly east of Highway 97, were deemed sufficiently recovered and removed from federal protection.
Gray wolves are protected under state law as an endangered species throughout Washington. Under WDFW’s Wolf Management and Conservation Plan, protections can be lifted when wolves are considered to be recovered, which is determined by population and reproduction.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year proposed dropping gray wolves from the endangered species list in the lower 48 states, except a small population of Mexican wolves in the Southwest. Previous attempts to return management of wolves to the states have been rejected after opponents filed lawsuits.
Skipwith told the Associated Press that wolves have “biologically recovered” and that their removal from the list would demonstrate the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act.
That claim was challenged by the Humane Society of the United States. The Humane Society said the Endangered Species Act requires that a species be recovered throughout a larger portion of its historic range to be taken off the list, but wolves now inhabit only about 15% of their historic range in the contiguous United States.
Wolves were shot, trapped and poisoned into near-extinction in the last century. Under endangered species protections, populations have rebounded in some areas, including the Great Lakes and portions of the West. They have been removed from the federal endangered list in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and portions of Oregon, Utah and Washington.
The Methow Valley is home to the longest existing wolf pack in the state — the Lookout Pack — which was discovered in 2008 and was the first known resident pack in Washington since wolves were essentially eliminated throughout the state by the early 1900s.