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Feds are failing gray wolves under Endangered Species Act, groups allege

A new lawsuit pushes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to refresh a recovery plan for the gray wolf that it hasn't updated in the last decade.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Accusing the government of failing to comply with the Endangered Species Act, a conservation group asked a federal judge on Tuesday to demand a nationwide recovery plan for the gray wolf.

Before a government-sponsored predator killing curbed their numbers to approximately 7,000, a population that lives almost entirely in northeastern Minnesota, the gray wolf had a population of about 2 million and territory that spanned much of the United States.

The species now exists only at about 1% of its historical numbers, a percentage that the Center for Biological Diversity blames on the absence of a sufficient recovery plan.

“The agency’s refusal to complete a national wolf recovery plan, besides violating the law, neglects both the people who want this majestic species to recover and the wolves who are so important to our country’s biodiversity,” Sophia Ressler, a staff attorney at the Center, said in a statement Tuesday alongside a new federal complaint filed in Washington.

While Fish and Wildlife Service does have a recovery plan for the gray wolf, it was one developed in 1992 and last updated more than a decade ago in 2012. Ressler called it an “outdated, unambitious and piecemeal approach.” 

Under the Endangered Species Act, the service is required to complete a status review every five years for the gray wolf as an endangered species.

The center also faults the service’s current plan for focusing intently on Minnesota, without acknowledging actions that could be taken in other areas where wolf populations could thrive. The suit lists the West Coast, southern Rocky Mountains and northeastern United States as examples of other potential habitats. 

It says the agency’s wolf-recovery planning split populations of the species in three separate geographic areas, failing to create a comprehensive plan that offers a big-picture look at wolf population recovery. As part of the suit, the center says the service must immediately develop and implement a nationwide recovery plan for the gray wolf. 

The plan has separate treatments for the eastern timber wolf in Minnesota, the delisted gray wolf population in the northern Rocky Mountains and the Mexican gray wolf in the Southwest.

“The Endangered Species Act is one of the most powerful tools we have to protect this country’s wildlife,” Ressler said Tuesday. “We’re only asking that the service do its duty and allow the Act to truly work for wolves.”

Despite the gray wolf population’s low numbers, the service has routinely attempted to remove protection from the species, most recently in 2020 under former President Donald Trump. A federal court ruling in February restored protections for wolves in the lower 48 states outside of the Rocky Mountains. 

Also listed as defendants in the suit Tuesday are Deb Haaland, in her role as the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and Martha Williams, as the secretary of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

A spokesperson from the Department of the Interior declined to comment.

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