Biden administration hews to Trump policies lifting protection from gray wolves

Study Says Hunting, Poaching Reduce Wisconsin Wolf Numbers

FARIBAULT, Minn. (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration is sticking with the former administration’s decisions to lift protections for gray wolves across most of the U.S.
But a top federal wildlife official told The Associated Press on Friday that there is growing concern over aggressive wolf hunting seasons adopted for the predators in the western Great Lakes and northern Rocky Mountains.
Wolves under federal protection made a remarkable rebound in parts of the U.S. during the past several decades, after excessive hunting and trapping drove them from the landscape in the early 1900s.
States took over wolf management during the last decade in the Northern Rockies and for the remainder of the Lower 48 states, including the Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest, in January.
The removal of protections had been in the works for years and was the right thing to do when finalized in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration, said Gary Frazier, assistant director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
On Friday, attorneys for the administration filed court documents defending the decision in response to a lawsuit from wildlife advocates, signaling the conclusion of Biden’s promise on his first day in office to review the Trump move.
But wolf management policies in place at the state level have shifted dramatically since protections were lifted, and Frazier suggested the federal government could take steps to restore protections if it sees population declines that put them on the path to extinction.
“Certainly some of the things we’re seeing are concerning,” Frazier told the AP.
Wisconsin moved quickly to reduce the state’s wolf numbers, after a pro-hunting group with close ties to conservative Republicans won a court order that allowed hunters — some using hounds — to kill 218 wolves in four days. And actually, the hunters blew past that limit, killing roughly 100 more.
Meanwhile, Republican-dominated legislatures in Idaho and Montana loosened hunting rules to allow tactics shunned by many wildlife managers, including hunting wolves at night and from the air and payments for dead wolves reminiscent of bounties that drove them to near-extinction.
The different states showed a common approach in which legislatures and politically appointed wildlife commissions take determined steps to reduce populations, Frazier said.
“We’re aware that circumstances have changed and we’ll be watching closely to see how the population responds,” he said.
The lead attorney in a lawsuit that aims to restore protections for wolves outside of the Northern Rockies said he iss disappointed in the Biden administration for not responding immediately to the push by states to cull more packs.
“Why should we hammer the population back down and lose all the gains that have been made before any kind of remedial action?” said Tim Preso with the environmental law firm Earthjustice. “The writing’s on the wall. Montana and Idaho are clear on what they’re intending and Wisconsin is right behind them.”
The states’ policies reflect an increasingly partisan approach to predator management in Republican-dominated statehouses.
The wolf population in the Midwest has grown to about 4,400. Frustration has increased in recent years among livestock producers and hunters over attacks on cattle and big game.
In Wisconsin, a Republican-controlled board recently set the state’s fall hunt quota at 300 animals, rejecting a 130-animal limit state wildlife managers had recommended.
Wisconsin’s Democratic attorney general is seeking a court order to oust the board’s chairman, whose term expired in May. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has appointed a successor, but the incumbent is refusing to step down until the Senate confirms the appointment. The Senate, dominated by Republicans, hasn’t held a hearing on the appointment.
Hunters and trappers now kill hundreds of wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The population has remained strong — more than 3,000 animals, according to wildlife officials — because the wolves breed so successfully and can roam huge areas of wild land in the sparsely populated Northern Rockies.
Some officials in the states are intent on reducing those numbers to curb livestock attacks and protect the big game herds that wolves prey upon. Supporters of restoring protections say the changes will tip the scales and drive down wolf numbers to unsustainable levels, while also threatening packs in nearby states that have interconnected populations.