SALT LAKE CITY — Led by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, 72 senators and representatives formally asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Monday to delist the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act.
The request in a letter sent to the agency argues that the gray wolf is no longer an endangered species and that uncontrolled gray wolf population growth is a threat to other indigenous wildlife as well as the hunting and ranching industries. Recovery efforts in the United States began in 1973 after the species nearly went extinct, and were so successful that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has delisted the species in its Great Lakes and Northern Rockies regions in recent years.
“The full delisting of the species and the return of the management of wolf populations to state governments is long overdue,” the letter states. “State governments are fully qualified to responsibly manage wolf populations and are able to meet both the needs of local communities and wildlife populations.”
Sixty-five Republicans and seven Democrats signed the request, including every congressman from Utah. Hatch told KSL News that delisting the gray wolf nationally is partly a matter of reducing federal bureaucracy.
“Having (gray wolves) listed under the Endangered Species Act ties the hands of ranchers and state wildlife managers across Utah and the West from the damage being done by wolves to livestock and local wildlife populations,” Hatch, R-Utah, said.
Wednesday’s official request was in response to a March 4 letter sent by 52 federal lawmakers requesting that gray wolves keep their protected status. Environmental groups say the government has its priorities wrong and some are even threatening to sue for a reversal if a delisting goes into effect.
“We believe national delisting would be premature,” said Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA, a wildlife advocacy group. “When you have a species that varies greatly from region to region, it’s very dangerous to remove protection nationwide. It puts a bounty on wolves, including where there haven’t been healthy population levels. … Once there’s a market, wolves aren’t safe anywhere.”
Derek Goldman, a field representative for the Endangered Species Coalition, believes a nationwide delisting would be an unnecessary blanket solution. He said stable wolf populations are isolated to areas where their endangered status has already been lifted.
“It seems really preposterous to delist wolves where they are barely making a comeback and where there are still great, natural habitats for them,” Goldman said.