When the gray wolf gained protections under the Endangered Species Act in 1974, the keystone predators had virtually vanished from all but one state. A century of hunting, trapping, and habitat loss had pushed them to near extinction in the Lower 48 states—an onslaught from which they are still recovering.
But lawmakers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have been prematurely rolling back protections for wolves. In 2011, Congress delisted the gray wolf in Montana and Idaho; then in 2013, the FWS proposed removing endangered species protections for nearly all of the nation’s gray wolves, but NRDC fought back, working with our partners to help galvanize people to send in more than one million public comments to oppose the scientifically flawed proposal.
Complicating the wolf’s recovery are livestock-predator conflicts, which can result in the lethal removal of a wolf—or even an entire pack. NRDC has partnered with ranchers and state and federal agencies like Wildlife Services to implement proactive nonlethal measures, such as fladry (flags on electrified wire) and riders on horseback, to keep both livestock and wolves alive.
Under the Trump administration, the threat to wolves—and all endangered species—is greater than ever. In just one of many attacks against the Endangered Species Act, the House of Representatives advanced a bill in November 2018 that not only strips protections for the gray wolf but also significantly undermines the Act. The U.S. Departments of the Interior and Commerce also proposed rollbacks that would strip threatened species of protections and factor economic impacts into the listing process for the first time. And the FWS is poised to try to remove protections from wolves across the country once again—despite the great potential that remains for wolves’ continued recovery into significant portions of their former range in the West and Northeast.
Without healthy wolf populations, ecosystems are thrown out of balance. Predators act as checks on populations further down the food chain. Saving wolves means also saving fragile and complex ecosystems on which thousands of species rely—while also conserving an important piece of our national heritage.