A lawsuit by environmental groups seeking to restore federal protections for wolves both in California and across the nation, was heard in the Northern District Court of California court on Friday.
After decades on the Endangered Species List, the gray wolf was removed late last year due to population improvements nationwide. However, after the removal of federal protection, wolf populations sharply dropped this year with increased hunting, trapping, and livestock protection actions. In California alone, the wolf population fell from about 1,000 in 2020 to just over 700 this year, although those numbers have likely declined in part due to natural migratory movements. While numbers have decreased in California, wolves have shown to be spreading, with some wolves this year reaching Southern California for the first time since 1922.
Due to concerns over the decline of the wolf population, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, and other groups such as Earthjustice sued the federal government to restore federal Endangered Species Act protections. They also argued that wolves are needed to keep wild populations in check to prevent overpopulation
“Gray wolf populations are a fraction of what they once were and need federal protections to recover,” said Defenders of Wildlife president Jamie Rappaport Clark in a statement on Friday. “We hope that the court has heard our concerns and sees that delisting wolves was reckless and premature.”
Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles also added that “They cannot take this shortcut. One of the casualties of the Fish and Wildlife Service argument is that we are not here today talking about the key issues of what protections wolves need, where those protections are needed.”
Supporters of the new wolf culls, such as farmer and hunter groups, point to the dangers wolves pose to pets and livestock, and that wolf populations are now large enough in Western and Northern states that they can survive being off the endangered species list.
“Wolves can do untold damage to livestock numbers if there are no human checks,” explained Pietro Anza, a hunting group guide in Northern California to the Globe on Friday. “They don’t want those protections back because they are still a threat.”
The U.S. Justice Department made it clear on Friday that while they still support wolf population recovery, if they aren’t on the Endangered species list, they can’t regulate it with protections.
“Congress was very clear in the statute: If there is not that species, the service does not have the ability to regulate it,” said Michael Eitel of the Justice Department’s natural resources division. “The wildlife service is not trying to skirt its obligations” to wolf recovery.”
As of Friday evening, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White has made no decision on the delistment of wolves and has given no indication if he would rule for restoring them back to the endangered species list.
If the Judge rules on the case, it will likely come soon as wolf hunting seasons are currently active in many states. As wolves are still protected by the state endangered species list, there is no legal hunting season in California.
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