Washington, D.C. — On July 23, 2021, the Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and a coalition of 14 conservation groups, many centered in the Great Lakes region, sought leave from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to submit an amicus (friend of the court) brief that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the “Service”) violated the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) in removing the gray wolf from ESA protection.
The amicus brief explains how the January 2021 removal of wolves from the ESA-protected list was an illegal maneuver that causes an urgent threat to their survival across their historical range. The Trump administration stripped away ESA protections for wolves in an arbitrary and capricious manner just before the upcoming change in administrations. Since then, several states have executed or planned hunting and trapping seasons that target a large portion of the small populations that survive. A major ground for the delisting was a reliance on state-level wolf conservation plans to protect populations within each state boundary, but the coalition’s brief explains how some states have treated their newfound authority as a license to kill wolves.
“We’ve seen an all-out assault on core communities of wolves in the Midwest and West,” stated Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “These actions warrant decisive action by the federal court and by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to shield wolves from reckless slaughter and thrill-killing.”
Contrary to claims made by the Service, wolves face urgent, imminent, and cognizable threats to their populations. Despite the illegal federal delisting from the Endangered Species Act, they are not recovered. Wolves number only slightly more than 5,000 across their range in the lower 48 states, and they face a panoply of threats. Without the shield of federal protection, the human persecution of wolves has ramped up in a way reminiscent of the 19th-century slaughter of the animals.
“Recent events in Michigan and Wisconsin are just another example in the long history of attempts to obliterate the gray wolf in the United States, despite its unique and critical role in America’s biological landscape,” said Kathleen Rogers, president of Earthday.org. “It also proves that states are unable or unwilling to manage this valuable species, which will critically imperil the survival and recovery of the gray wolf. The gray wolf continues to need the full protection of the Endangered Species Act.”
The motion and proposed brief filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by Animal Wellness Action, the Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians (the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River, Earthday.org, The 06 Legacy, The Alliance For Animals, Animal Wellness Foundation, The Center for A Humane Economy, Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf & Wildlife, Good Wolf, League of Humane Voter – Wisconsin, National Wolfwatcher Coalition, Plan B To Save Wolves, SPCA International, Wolf Patrol and Wisconsin Wolf Front United urges the court to vacate the delisting rule and restore ESA protections for grey wolves across the lower 48 states. The parties are represented by the law firm of Shartsis Friese LLP in San Francisco.
In Wisconsin, within days after the federal desisting became effective in January 2021, state lawmakers wrote a letter to the Department of Natural Resources demanding the immediate opening of a hunting season even as wolf conservation experts at the state agency indicated that they needed more time to develop a science-based quota, seek input from tribes and other stakeholders and update its fourteen-year-old wolf management plan. According to the state’s own governor, “DNR was forced to develop harvest quotas without the usual input and science-based research it would have used had more time been available.”
The disastrous result of Wisconsin’s reckless rush to conduct a 2021 wolf hunting season demonstrates why the federal government’s cursory analysis and conclusion that state-level protections were adequate was clearly ill-founded. DNR’s quota of 200 wolves spurred a 60-hour killing spree that resulted in the deaths of at least 218 wolves, exceeding the 119-kill limit allocated outside of tribal lands by 82 percent. Most of the wolf carcasses examined following the hunt showed excessive evidence of dog bites, proving that hunters are, in fact, using dogs to kill wolves in what amounts to state-sanctioned animal fighting. One wildlife expert who examined the wolf carcasses noted, “In my nearly 30 years of anatomic pathology experience, the extent of intentional premortem trauma that I observed, and that was documented, with these February 2021 wolves was egregious and appalling.”
In Michigan, some state lawmakers have attempted a similar campaign to kill wolves by introducing a Resolution that urged the Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) to quickly implement a wolf hunting and trapping program in 2021 while federal protections were absent. The lawmakers’ efforts were mounted even as state DNR officials were insisting that more time was needed to gather data, update wolf management plans, and consult with tribes. Undeterred, the Michigan Senate recently passed a bill that allows residents exclusively drawn from the state’s rural Upper Peninsula, rather than from the entire state, to sit on the state’s wolf management advisory council intended to inform future conservation and hunting practices. The Upper Peninsula is home to just 3 % of the state’s human population.
In Idaho, the Governor signed a bill into law on May 5th that will allow for the killing of 90 percent or more of the state’s wolf population. The law was so dismissive of scientific management principles that Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game officially opposed the bill because, according to reports, it “remove[d] decisions about how to manage wildlife from the department’s professionals and place[d] that decision making in the hands of politicians.”
This is not the first time that states have irresponsibly rushed to implement barbaric wolf-killing sprees following federal delisting attempts. Following the last delisting attempt in 2011, Minnesota and Wisconsin authorized some of the most abusive and unsporting practices, including hound hunting, snares, baiting, electronic calls and the use of leg hold traps, producing a body count well past 1000 animals over two hunting seasons. Wolf numbers declined in every state – with Wisconsin alone losing 17 family units in just three seasons, a fifth of its total wolf population just through hunting and trapping.
The restoration of federal ESA protections is critical for the future of gray wolves in North America. Several states have proven, time and again, that they are incapable of properly managing their wolf populations. State management practices are demonstrably inadequate and, if left unchecked, will reverse decades of conservation gains for the gray wolf.
There are three cases pending before the court to vacate the gray wolf delisting action. Earlier this summer, the National Congress of American Indians unanimously adopted a resolution opposing the delisting action and criticizing the federal government for its failure to meaningfully consult with the tribes. The court is scheduled to hear oral argument in the cases in early November 2021.
“Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf & Wildlife have signed onto this lawsuit because we feel wolves had not recovered in most of their range and, maybe more importantly, the states wolf management plans are wolf hostile, threatening continued recovery and lack best available science. This may force states such as Wisconsin, with horrible wolf management plans, cruel hunting seasons using snares and dogs with no scientific basis for large hunting quotas, to be much more moderate when it comes to wolf management.” – Melissa Smith
Dear Friend of the Wolf,
In collaboration with other wildlife advocacy organizations and the Tribes of the Great Lakes, we have filed an amicus brief on behalf of the wolves in Wisconsin to restore the legal protections critical to their survival. We will not let another slaughter like we witnessed in February occur again without a fight.
While we already have formed a strong grassroots campaign by supporting the Tribes’ relationship to Ma’iingan and helping everyday people like yourselves get involved in local and federal wildlife policy, we need your help to continue our efforts to end recreational wolf hunting and poaching not only in Wisconsin but beyond. Your gift will support our litigation efforts, billboards and grassroots organizing and is vital to our work to restore protections for wolves from those who want to do them harm.
Please consider donating $20, $35 or $100 to help us win in court and pursue further litigation. Your donation will have a positive impact on not only wolves, but all the wildlife of Wisconsin and surrounding Great Lakes States. It’s time for wildlife policy to be decided by those with respect for the natural world and science—not just special interests.
You can donate to our 501(c)(3) non-profit organization online by clicking the PayPal button below, call us at 608-234-8860, or send a check payable to Great Lakes Wildlife Alliance to 117 Ardmore Drive, Madison WI 54713. For further information, you can learn more here at our Donation page.
Thank you all~
Sincerely, Melissa Smith
P.S. Let’s stop this fall hunt!