On Wednesday the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved an amendment on the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2016 that would remove federal protections from gray wolves in Wyoming, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota. Wolves in these states were only recently returned to the Endangered Species List—and the protections afforded within—after a decision by a federal court in late 2014. Since then, the protected status of the species has been a controversial issue in the four states.
The amendment to the bill came from Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) and Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), who pointed out that both state and federal agencies, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, agreed that wolves should be returned to state control. However, in 2014 US District Judge Beryl Howell ruled in favor of animal rights groups, who filed a lawsuit arguing that the four states had inadequate management practices to prevent wolves from slipping back into endangered status. State wildlife experts said this was not the case.
“Wolves in Michigan and the other western Great Lakes states are fully recovered from endangered species status, which is a great success story,” said Russ Mason, Wildlife Division Chief for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, in a previous press release. “Continuing to use the Endangered Species Act to protect a recovered species not only undermines the integrity of the Act, it leaves farmers and others with no immediate recourse when their animals are being attacked and killed by wolves.”
Efforts to reverse the court decision are not without fierce resistance from animal rights groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity. Activists harshly criticized the amendment to the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2016 as another attack on wolves, a species they believe to still be vulnerable to hunting.
“This is yet another special-interest driven attack on gray wolves that will lead to the vicious and cruel slaughter of thousands of these magnificent animals,” Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “The American people know that the gray wolf is still just beginning to recover in places like the West Coast, southern Rockies and New England. Without healthy populations in Wyoming and the Great Lakes, this recovery will not happen.”
The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2016 now goes before the full Senate. The House approved a similar bill.
Other provisions of the bill include improving access to public lands for hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities, protecting traditional fishing equipment from unwarranted bans, and allocating additional funds for fish and wildlife conservation.