By Danielle Bongiovanni
In October of 2020, the Trump administration announced an intention to remove gray wolves from the federal list of endangered and threatened species. The Biden administration upheld the decision since total populations exceeded 6,000 members, surpassing existing conservation goals. Federal wildlife officials are content to repeal federal protections and let local wildlife agencies resume managing the populations.
The decision was not applauded by everyone, though. Critics claimed the conservation goals set in 1978 needed to be expanded. Arguments hinged on how gray wolves had yet to fully reclaim the regions where they once thrived, and climate change has posed new threats to the species. Environmental groups such as Earthjustice and the National Resources Defense Council filed lawsuits against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but the removal was not reversed.
Since then, gray wolf populations have declined due to mostly human causes. By July of 2021, up to one-third of Wisconsin’s gray wolf populations reportedly died due to hunting, poaching, automobiles, and lethal methods of livestock protection. Despite this, the state planned on opening wolf season again on Nov. 6 until Judge Jacob Frost intervened by siding with animal advocacy groups that sued the state.
This trend is not limited to Wisconsin. Many states plan on opening wolf season this fall or winter despite notable declines in their populations. Emergency petitions to return federal protections to gray wolves filed on June 1 and July 29 were deemed credible enough by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to warrant a status review of the species.
The agency is collecting scientific and commercial data relevant to determining whether or not gray wolves should be relisted as endangered or threatened, but it could take another year before federal protections are returned. Indigeneous activists have called for immediate action, including asking Assistant Interior Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to implement an emergency Endangered Species Act relisting.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public input on the subject. Relistwolves.org urges concerned groups and individuals to make their opinions known. They can also sign a petition telling the Biden administration to reverse the delistment.
Despite the geographical distance between gray wolves’ territory and New Jersey, this issue hits close to home for the state. There are no wild wolves in New Jersey, as eastern wolves were wiped out in the 1800s due to hunting and habitat loss. A lack of natural predators has caused the state’s deer population to explode, with some regions hosting three times the sustainable number of individuals per square mile. This has resulted in widespread ecosystem degradation that leads to invasive species taking over.
Although a reintroduction of wolves could help cull the deer, efforts are blocked by a lack of open country and too many humans, according to Larry Hajna of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Hex Connell, a sophomore at Ramapo College majoring in music production, believes the stalemate highlights the importance of protecting and restoring wolf populations wherever feasible. “This legislation shows just how little the government cares about wildlife,” they said. “We gain nothing by hunting wolves, but their extinction would have catastrophic effects on the ecosystem.”