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Rep. DeFazio calls for emergency protections for gray wolves

A pack of wolves makes their way through the snow in Northeastern Oregon.
Courtesy of Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife
A pack of wolves makes their way through the snow in Northeastern Oregon.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio is pushing the Biden administration to issue an emergency reinstatement of Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves.

The Oregon Democrat joined dozens of other congressional leaders last month in asking the U.S. Department of the Interior for temporary protections to prevent wolves from being “needlessly killed” in Rocky Mountain states where new rules allow wolf hunts.

But so far, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland isn’t making any promises, according to a statement DeFazio released on Wednesday.

DeFazio said he was disappointed after talking with Haaland because she would not commit to declaring an emergency relisting to protect gray wolves.

“I stressed to her the dire need to issue an emergency relisting protection for the gray wolf under her authority through the Endangered Species Act,” DeFazio said. “There is simply no reason for Secretary Haaland to continue a Trump-era policy that threatens the existence of a species.”

Environmental groups have sued the federal government over Former President Donald Trump’s decision to remove Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves in his final days in office last year.

They also petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore endangered species protections after Idaho and Montana passed laws that allow wolves to be hunted to reduce the population of the predators that are known to attack livestock.

In December, DeFazio joined a group of 78 lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives in asking the Department of the Interior to issue an emergency listing of gray wolves to temporarily restore federal protections.

“We have already seen evidence of mass killings in several states after the gray wolf was delisted, and more, larger hunts are planned as of now,” the representatives wrote in their request. “Such actions warrant an emergency listing to protect the species from dangerous reductions in population size that could lead to extinction.”

On Wednesday, DeFazio acknowledged that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched a year-long review in September to determine if relisting wolves is warranted. But he said that isn’t enough to protect the wolves that are under immediate threat.

“Waiting until next September to determine if gray wolves should be relisted does nothing to protect them in the interim,” DeFazio said.

He cited a new law in Idaho that calls for killing up to 90% of the state’s wolf population and a similar law in Montana as well as a decision by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to authorize the killing of gray wolf pups as reasons to reinstate endangered species protections.

DeFazio also noted that 15 wolves were recently killed when they left the boundaries and protection of Yellowstone National Park.

“We cannot allow the gray wolf to be hunted into extinction,” DeFazio said. “If the Administration fails to act now, we may not have another chance to save the gray wolf.”

Interior Department Communications Director Melissa Schwartz shared a statement on Wednesday saying Haaland appreciated the opportunity to talk with DeFazio.

“Under Secretary Haaland’s leadership, the Department will address the status of the gray wolf and all species according to the science and the law, and will continue to evaluate all options for doing so,” she said.

If Haaland agrees to issue an emergency reinstatement of endangered species protections, gray wolves would be relisted for 240 days and wolf hunts would not be allowed.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has argued that gray wolf populations have rebounded and no longer warrant protection under federal law. However, under the Biden administration, agency leaders have suggested that federal protections might need to be restored because Republican-backed state laws have made it easier for people to kill wolves.

Former U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, was among those who supported delisting gray wolves, saying that ranchers needed relief from the predators targeting their livestock.

Ranchers argued for removing endangered species protections for gray wolves as their populations have grown and attacks on livestock have increased.

Copyright 2022 OPB

Cassandra Profita