A gray wolf standing on a rock, howling.
Getty Images: AB Photography

Judge Restores Federal Protections for Gray Wolf in 44 States

Federal protections for wolves are back on again.

In news that's already inspiring debate, a judge restored federal protections for gray wolves across at least 44 states on Thursday in U.S. District Court.

The New York Times reports Senior District Judge Jeffrey S. White of the Northern District of California was the one who made the ruling. In his decision, White said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to show populations of wolves could be sustained with protections outside of the Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains.

This decision effectively reverses a decision from the Trump administration to remove protections for the gray wolf. In addition, the Associated Press reports that Biden administration attorneys had not pushed for this change. In fact, they had defended the Trump-era ruling, siding with the notion that the populations were now robust enough to withstand hunting season pressures.

In any case, the new ruling will not impact key wolf populations in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Nor will it affect small portions of states neighboring there. This is because the wolves there are already considered to be under state jurisdiction, mostly because Congress had already lifted federal protections for the predators in that region of the Rocky Mountains back in 2011. This likely means hunting will continue in those states.

The news of federal protections being restored is being celebrated by some environmental groups and criticized by hunting and farming interests. Those against the decision included American Farm Bureau Federation, National Rifle Association, and other industry groups, according to the AP. Many western hunters have expressed concerns about the animals preying upon game animals like deer, antelope, and elk.

This ruling will immediately affect Wisconsin's controversial wolf hunting season. Officials ended that hunt last February after only three days of hunting. There had been a quota of 119 animals, but hunters harvested more than 200.

Minnesota had been making plans to possibly hold a wolf hunt in 2022, although noting was scheduled. However, the new federal ruling will put a stop to that for the time being. In Michigan, there had been a lot of talk of adding a hunting season, but the wildlife commission never considered any proposals, despite pushes from Republican legislators.

Overall, the Associated Press reports approximately 4,400 wolves inhabit Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

This recent ruling by Senior District Judge White comes in the middle of a review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of wolf protections after Idaho started offering $2,500 incentives for harvesting the predators back in October. The area around Yellowstone National Park was also in the news earlier this year when officials reported more than 20 wolves from the park's packs had been killed or trapped after wandering outside the park's boundaries.

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