U.S. must do more to protect endangered gray wolves, says new lawsuit

An endangered gray wolf peers out from a snow covered shelter in this undated handout photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. REUTERS/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Handout
  • Conservation group says U.S. should assess status of endangered wolves
  • Iconic predator is still threatened by loss of habitat and conflict with humans, group says

(Reuters) - The Center for Biological Diversity on Tuesday sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to prepare a plan to protect endangered gray wolves, arguing the agency has repeatedly attempted to remove protections for the animal despite persistent threats from loss of habitat and human conflict.

The environmental group said in a lawsuit filed in District of Columbia federal court the agency has never developed a nationwide plan to guide recovery efforts for the wolf, which are now listed as endangered, despite a requirement that it do so in the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Instead of drafting an adequate protection plan, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said the government in recent years has attempted to remove protections only to be blocked by the courts. In 2020, the Trump administration said the wolves had adequately recovered and moved to remove protections, which opponents said appeared to be an attempt to win over Midwestern voters days before that year's election.

The lawsuit seeks to force the government to develop such a plan and to conduct a long overdue status review, which is required every five years by the ESA.

“The Service can’t rely on its outdated, unambitious, and piecemeal approach to wolf recovery any longer,” said Sophia Ressler, a staff attorney at the CBD, in a statement.

The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing protections after the last status review, conducted in 2012, and in 2020 issued a final rule doing so, according to the lawsuit. That final rule was challenged in court by CBD and other environmental groups, and a D.C. appeals court vacated that ruling earlier this year.

The wolves occupy less than 15% of their historical range in the contiguous United States with a total population of likely less than 7,000 individuals, according to CBD. The group said that represents an improvement since 1978, but that “grave threats remain.”

Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The case is Center for Biological Diversity v. Haaland, United States District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:22-cv-03588.

For CBD: Eric Glitzenstein, Collette Adkins and Sophia Ressler

For the government: Not immediately available

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