Gray wolf standing on rock.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Decision on Gray Wolves is a Devastating Mistake According to Biologist

Wolves in the United States have fallen victim to yet another devastating setback in their recovery. On February 2, 2024 the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) denied relisting the Northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) after dragging out the status review for two and a half years, leaving them unprotected. 

As a Wildlife Biologist with years of experience studying and admiring these magnificent creatures, I believe it's crucial to have the Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolves back on the list of species protected under the ESA. Here are the top 10 reasons why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should re-list these wolves.

Historical Context

Gray Wolf partners sitting on ground.
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Despite the killing of over 4,000 wolves in the U.S. since 2020, the wolves of the Northern Rockies will remain under state management in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. These states will continue allowing widespread, often incentivized, killing.

Wolves outside of the Northern Rockies will remain under federal protection pursuant to a February 10, 2022, court order that restored protections for wolves outside of the Northern Rockies.

Ecosystem Balance

Gray wolfs moving through woods.
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“With this decision, the USFWS failed not just the wolves of the Northern Rockies, but wildlife and wildlands at large that benefit and rely on healthy and abundant wolf populations to serve their keystone roles in our ecosystems,” said Renee Seacor, Carnivore Conservation Director with Project Coyote.

Wolves play a crucial role in maintaining the delicate balance of ecosystems. As apex predators, they regulate prey populations, preventing overgrazing and habitat degradation. I've witnessed firsthand the positive effects of their presence on both flora and fauna during my fieldwork.

Trophic Cascades

Chart showing food webs and Trophic Cascade effects.
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When wolves control prey populations, it creates a domino effect – trophic cascades – positively impacting vegetation, bird populations, and even insect dynamics. Without the wolf population, nature's ability to balance the ecosystem becomes stressed, making it crucial to safeguard their habitat and prevent their extinction.

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health

Mother wolf and cub playing in grass.
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The reintroduction of gray wolves isn't just about saving a single species; it's about preserving biodiversity. Wildlife populations have plummeted by more than two-thirds in the last 50 years, and one million of the estimated eight million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction

Wolves contribute to the health of ecosystems by preventing the unchecked growth of certain species, ensuring a diverse and resilient environment. 

Ecotourism Opportunities

Wolf photo in the snow.
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Wolves are a major draw for wildlife enthusiasts. People travel from all over to catch a glimpse of these elusive creatures in their natural habitat. 

This tourism benefits the wolves as well as local economies, pumping much-needed revenue into businesses and jobs. I've seen small towns thrive because of the economic boost provided by wolf-related ecotourism.

“Ten years after the wolves were brought back, the University of Montana conducted a Regional Economic Impact Analyses and estimated that more than $35.5 million (confidence interval of $22.4 to $48.6 million) are generated via wolf-centered ecotourism in the park’s surrounding gateway communities.” (Natural Habitat Adventures).

Sustainable Economic Growth

Wolf walking through the forest.
Image Credit: Deposit Photos.

Conserving the gray wolves is an investment in long-term economic sustainability. By maintaining a balanced ecosystem, we ensure the continuity of resources that communities rely on. 

The North American Gray Wolf is a keystone species critical for ecological restoration and preservation. 

Research Supporting Conservation

pack of wolves in wooded area.
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Numerous scientific studies support the positive impact of wolf conservation on ecosystems. Although pundits argue the need for organized hunts to help manage the population, this is just not true.

The scientific consensus is clear: gray wolves are crucial players in maintaining the ecological health of their habitats. It's not just theory – it's backed by hard data and rigorous research.

Preventing Habitat Destruction

example of deforestation and habitat destruction.
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Habitat destruction and fragmentation pose significant threats to the wolf population. As human developments encroach on their territories, maintaining viable habitats becomes increasingly challenging. Preserving these spaces safeguards the entire ecosystem they support.

​​In the midst of the twin crises of catastrophic biodiversity collapse and climate change, USFWS has chosen to allow the continued unsustainable killing of wolves, a species that increases biodiversity and the resilience of our shared ecosystems.

Dispelling Misconceptions

wolf and pup laying in sun.
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Misinformation can be a formidable foe in the world of conservation. Some wrongly perceive wolves as ruthless killers, ignoring their vital role in maintaining balance. 

I've encountered instances where communities initially feared the return of wolves but eventually embraced them after understanding the science behind their importance.

Human-Wolf Conflicts

Wolf laying on rock.
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While wolves contribute significantly to the ecosystem, conflicts with humans do arise. Livestock depredation and concerns for public safety can strain relationships. Addressing these conflicts with effective mitigation strategies is essential to ensure coexistence. It's a delicate balance between conservation and community needs.

Symbolic Importance

Wolf portrait up close on black background.
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Wolves are symbols of wilderness, resilience, and ecological balance. Their conservation represents a commitment to a healthier planet for current and future generations. 

Renee Seacor, Carnivore Conservation Director with Project Coyote, said, “All wolves deserve full, enduring protections that will allow them to live self-determined lives free from persecution.”

ESA Success Stories

Grey wolf, Canis lupus, single mammal running on snow, captive,
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The Endangered Species Act has a proven track record of success in recovering species on the brink. From bald eagles to gray whales, the ESA has been instrumental in their rebound. 

Re-listing the Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolves would not only continue this legacy but also serve as a beacon of hope for other imperiled species.

Howling for a Brighter Future for Wolves

Gray Wolf laying in the snow.
Image Credit: Deposit Photos.

The re-listing of Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolves under the ESA is not just about protecting a single species; it's about preserving the intricate balance of life in our ecosystems. From economic benefits to global significance, the reasons are compelling.

The USFWS also announced its intention to develop a National Recovery Plan for gray wolves in the lower 48, which is set to be completed by December 12, 2025. As this process unfolds, Project Coyote will closely monitor its development and champion comprehensive wolf safeguards nationwide.

10 Differences Between Wolves and Coyotes

Wolf vs Coyote mockup with closeup of both and nature background
Image Credit: Overthought This.

While wolves may be over-exploited as mythical creatures and coyotes misunderstood to be a nuisance, they are two distinct members of the Canidae family.