PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – The Trump administration’s plan to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list would prevent the animals from regaining the vast majority of their original territory, advocates said at a rally in Portland Monday.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed delisting the species March 15, after finding that gray wolves are “no longer threatened or endangered throughout all or a significant portion” of their range. Ranching advocates, including the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, applauded the move, but environmentalists say wolves have only repopulated a sliver of their original range.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., addressed the crowd opposed to the delisting at the rally Monday. He said that wolves play an important part in wildlife management, because they cull the weakest members of elk and deer herds. The representative said that the wolves are even more important in light of a report released by the United Nations earlier in the day, which described the stunning loss of global biodiversity caused by humans.
“We’ve got what, 137 of them here in Oregon and we are set to consider a goofy rule that would make their killing easier?” Blumenauer said. “What planet are these people living on?”
Gray wolves once roamed from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, from Canada to Mexico – nearly everywhere in the U.S. except the Southeast, the territory of the highly endangered red wolves.
By the 1930s, gray wolves were nearly extinct in the lower 48 states, primarily because of government campaigns targeting predators.
In 1974, the Endangered Species Act gave protection to gray wolves. They were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park and other areas of the Rocky Mountains, and their numbers started to recover in the northern Midwest and western parts of the country. In 2003, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reclassified gray wolves as threatened – a designation that provides fewer protections to wildlife.
Congress delisted the species in Idaho and Montana in 2011. In April 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia lifted federal protections for gray wolves in Wyoming.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates there are approximately 6,000 wolves living in the continental U.S. and between 8,000 and 11,000 in Alaska. However, in states where wolves are already delisted, their numbers have started to drop again.
In 2015, the most recent year for which the service provided wolf population data, humans caused the deaths of 682 gray wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming alone. That number represents 28% of the total wolf population in the three states. The government says this is still “well above” the minimum requirement of a combined total of 450 gray wolves in the three states.
If the plan becomes law, wolf management will be in the hands of individual states, and that’s a process that advocates say is already riddled with problems.
Talks on updating wolf-management rules in Oregon fell apart in January. Environmental groups said the discussions were weighted too heavily in favor of ranchers, who wanted to change the law to allow them to kill wolves after two predation events involving livestock.
On Monday, protesters gathered on a bridge over Interstate-84, which was crowded with rush hour traffic. They hung banners and waved signs, eliciting honks and howls of support from passing cars.
One protestor, 72-year-old Patti Taylor, held a sign saying “Wolves Belong.” She told Courthouse News that she was passionate about protecting wildlife in general, but thinks there is something special about wolves.
“They are magnetic, charismatic predators,” Taylor said. “They’re powerful animals that deserve to live.”
Another protestor, Quinn Read, said the U.N. report on biodiversity shows why it’s important to stand-up for animals.
“There was just a U.N. report that came out today that said we are in the middle of an extinction crisis that is going to affect humanity,” Read said. “So we have to come out and speak on behalf of imperiled species for wolves and for future generations.”