Secretary Haaland: Wolves have walked with us for centuries. States are weakening their protections

Last edited 02/01/2024

Date: Monday, February 7, 2022

WASHINGTON — In a new op-ed out today in USA Today, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland discusses her commitment to ensuring that wolves have the conservation they need to survive and thrive in the wild based on science and law.

Read Secretary Haaland's op-ed below:

Wolves have walked with us for centuries. States are weakening their protections.

Since time immemorial, wolves have lived alongside Indigenous peoples and have represented the virtues of healing, strength and familial protection. In many tribes, they are honored in traditional ceremonies and revered in storytelling.

Even today, I feel the embrace of my ancestors reminding me why our nonhuman relatives deserve respect – because the creator put them here to live.

For centuries, wolves have been exploited for their furs, killed in the name of protecting people, livestock and game species and nearly eliminated through government-sponsored actions. Decades of hard work by states, tribes and stakeholders on the ground, along with federal protections, successfully recovered gray wolves after two centuries of decline to the brink of extinction.

As secretary of the Interior, I am committed to ensuring that wolves have the conservation they need to survive and thrive in the wild based on science and law. I am also committed to keeping communities safe and reducing wolf conflicts with ranchers. It is critical that we all recognize that our nation’s wolf populations are integral to the health of fragile ecosystems and hold significant cultural importance in our shared heritage.

Jeopardizing gray wolves recovery

We are alarmed by recent reports from Montana, where so far this season nearly 20 gray wolves that set foot outside of Yellowstone National Park have been killed. This happened because the state recently removed longstanding rules in areas adjacent to the park, which were effective in protecting Yellowstone wolves that do not recognize boundary lines on a map.

We have communicated to state officials that these kinds of actions jeopardize the decades of federal and state partnerships that successfully recovered gray wolves in the northern Rockies.

The law requires that states uphold reserved tribal treaty rights. Therefore, in the case of the Ojibwe Tribes in Wisconsin, the Interior Department formally requested that the state consult and coordinate with the tribes when making wolf management decisions and respect the tribes’ right to conserve rather than kill wolves. We will take similar actions on behalf of other tribes where necessary.

Finally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has authority under the Endangered Species Act to protect threatened and endangered species. Thanks in large part to this bedrock environmental law, gray wolves recovered from near extinction to current numbers that exceeded expectations. Because of the gray wolf’s recovery, individual states are responsible for its welfare and sustaining that recovery. Nevertheless, we will reinstate federal protections under the ESA for the northern Rocky Mountains' gray wolf, if necessary.

Next steps for the gray wolf

The Fish and Wildlife Service is evaluating whether a re-listing of the northern Rocky Mountains' gray wolf population under the Endangered Species Act is necessary.

Recent laws passed in some Western states undermine state wildlife managers by promoting precipitous reductions in wolf populations, such as removing bag limits, baiting, snaring, night hunting and pursuit by dogs – the same kind of practices that nearly wiped out wolves during the last century. In response, last September the Fish and Wildlife Service began a 12-month analysis to determine, guided by science and the law, whether reinstating ESA protections is warranted.

We also have the ability to act swiftly to protect gray wolves if science indicates that there is an emergency posing a significant risk to the well-being of the species. In such an emergency, the Fish and Wildlife Service can immediately list the species for 240 days. We are closely monitoring data on wolf populations and will make those determinations if merited using the best available science.

Gray wolf recovery has been an American conservation success story. The continued recovery of gray wolves depends on the cooperation of wildlife managers at the state, tribal and federal levels, and a reliance on the best available science to guide management decisions. The clock is ticking. We must find solutions that allow wolves to flourish, even while we balance the needs of hunters and ranchers and others who live and work along with wolves on the landscape.

My Pueblo ancestors taught me to live with courage, respect our ecosystems and protect our families – the very same virtues that wolves embody. From our public lands to our vast oceans, and all the creatures that live within them, I will continue to work hard for our nation’s wildlife and its habitats, because we were meant to all coexist on this earth – the only place we all call home.


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