Mere days before voters in Colorado this month approved the reintroduction of gray wolves into the wild, the US Department of the Interior announced that wolf numbers had recovered and would no longer receive federal protection under the Endangered Species Act as of January 4, 2021. Although lawsuits will be filed in the next month or so to reverse DOI’s decision, delisting would have both positive and negative consequences on reintroduction efforts.
According to the wording of the state’s Proposition 114, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission would be responsible for devising a reintroduction plan for the wolves and would need to begin carrying it out before December 31, 2023, along with compensating farmers for lost livestock. According to NPR, this was the first time any state had planned to take individual action on an endangered species. This in itself sparked debate about who should be in charge of reintroduction plans: voters or conservation officials. The measure did pass on November 3 by a slight margin, but the DOI’s announcement on October 26 has complicated the endeavor to boost wolf numbers before it even begins.
The DOI’s statement justified delisting the wolves by saying that with more than 6,000 gray wolves now living in the contiguous United States, recovery efforts have “greatly exceeded” the goals that had been set forth by the agency.
One aspect that will make Prop. 114’s implementation easier is the fact that if the animal is not a protected species, there are fewer hoops to jump through with getting the permits to send them into the wild.
“So it’s an ironic benefit at the state level while we disagree with delisting wolves in the first place,” Rob Edward, president of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, tells The Daily Sentinel.
While the paperwork might become easier without having to go through federal channels, a significant amount of money to help make the transition a success would no longer be available if the wolves aren’t on the endangered species list anymore. Edward tells the Sentinel that as much as 75 percent of the funding for the project was expected to come from the federal government. Although there might still be some federal money available, it isn’t as clear where the bulk of the funding will come from or how the program will proceed.
The Denver Gazette reports that Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, says he does not believe that President-Elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration is likely to reverse the decision made by the current administration.