NRDC v. U.S. Department of the Interior et al. (Gray Wolf Delisting)

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A gray wolf runs through the shallows of a river in Minnesota.

Credit: Lynn Bystrom/iStock

The gray wolf is an iconic keystone species that was nearly decimated in the United States by widespread predator control programs and habitat and prey loss. While wolves have begun to make a comeback since receiving Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections in the 1970s, they are still a long way from recovered. And yet, over the last two decades, the federal government has made repeated, failed attempts to prematurely strip wolves of protections and remove them from the list of endangered species.

Most recently, the Trump administration hastily issued a rule in its final months delisting gray wolves across 44 states. NRDC brought a lawsuit challenging this rule, as did 15 other environmental groups, represented by lawyers from Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center. All three cases were related in the Northern District of California.

In February 2022, in a major victory for wolves and conservation advocates, the district court issued a resounding ruling in our favor—granting summary judgment and restoring protections for wolves across the Lower 48 states (with the exception of the Northern Rockies, where wolves were delisted by a congressional rider). The court held that the delisting issued by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service failed to analyze the status of wolves across the entire listing, failed to properly evaluate what constituted a “significant” portion of the species’ range, ignored the distinct coastal ancestry of West Coast wolves, and did not consider the causes and effects of lost historical range on gray wolves.

The Fish & Wildlife Service appealed this ruling, but that appeal is on hold while the Biden administration conducts a new ESA status review for the gray wolf. In the meantime, the district court’s ruling will save hundreds of wolves each year from the immediate threats they would have faced, including state-sponsored hunts. NRDC and our partners will continue to vigorously defend this win and to advocate for other federal actions needed to ensure the wolves’ full nationwide recovery.

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