November 16, 2018 – Wolves in every state in the lower 48 may become fair game for hunters if House Republicans are able to pass a bill today. This could be a “last gasp” opportunity for the GOP to get federal protections for wolves removed from the Endangered Species Act before turning the House chamber over to Democrats in January.
While wolves have either been repopulated in some western states in recent years and have become a problem mainly to states along the country’s northern border and in the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain states, animal welfare groups have always lobbied for federal protections to remain in place indefinitely. While most people directly affected by wolf predation are either livestock producers or horse owners, wolves have aggressively killed or attacked even domestic pets and, as a result, put some rural residents at risk, as well.
Historically, wolves and other apex predators such as grizzly bears were decimated during the 20th Century with populations of those wild species either reduced to thin margins or became extinct. Efforts mainly by federal wildlife agencies within the Department of the Interior have resulted in relocation, reintroduction and/or restrictions on hunting or treating wolves and some bears as unwanted predators.
Grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park began receiving protection in the 1050s-1970s after researchers and wildlife protectionists cooperated in programs that helped the bears return to natural food sources rather than a reliance on garbage dumps in the Park. Wolves that had been basically exterminated in the Rocky Mountain West and forced back into territorial regions in Canada, were reintroduced into the Yellowstone ecosystem in 1995 and allowed to expand by repopulation. Both grey wolves and grizzly bears have been successfully established to the point where limited hunting as a management control tool has been either allowed or at least limited to assure sustained numbers of each species.
Areas mainly effected and where hunting is either allowed or being considered include Wyoming, Montana and Idaho as well as eastern Washington and Oregon and parts of Utah. Grey wolves were more recently introduced in some areas of California.
The lame duck session of Congress, especially in the House, makes the effort to remove wolves from the ESA critical for farmers, ranchers and other interests in the West. Once Democrats take over the House in the 116th Congress, animal protectionists will encourage legislation that would result in permanent federal protection for the aggressive predators.
“This bill is bipartisan,” said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, who chairs the House Rules Committee that approved rules of debate for the wolf bill. Sessions said both Republicans and Democrats from western states, where many gray wolves in the U.S. live, made a push to get the bill through. “I hope that there’s agreement that it needs to be handled,” he said, then added, “But it’s an emotional issue for people that don’t live in the west.”