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Monday, July 25, 2011

The Gray Wolf and the Endangered Species Act (ESA):A Brief Legal History

Kristina Alexander
Legislative Attorney

Wolves had all but disappeared from the contiguous United States when Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) listed wolves as an endangered species in most of the lower 48 states. Since then, the gray wolf (Canis lupus) has held every status of protection under the ESA, as regulatory efforts have shifted from conserving the wolf, which culminated in reintroducing wolves into three parts of the American West in the 1990s, to reducing wolf protections where its population has surged. Litigation has followed each regulatory change. After courts rejected regulatory efforts to reduce protections, Congress enacted P.L. 112-10, § 1713, which removes federal protection of the gray wolf in Montana, Idaho, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and north-central Utah, and marks the first legislative delisting in the history of the ESA.

Other changes to wolf protection are contemplated. FWS has proposed recognizing a new species of wolf, the eastern wolf (Canis lycaon), and changing the gray wolf’s historic range to omit all or parts of 29 states in the eastern United States. Additionally, FWS has proposed delisting gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes area and evaluating whether wolf populations in the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest are appropriately protected under the ESA.

This report provides a brief history of the laws, regulations, and lawsuits related to the wolf’s protected status. Fuller analyses of the concepts discussed in this report can be found in the companion report, CRS Report RL34238, Gray Wolves Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA): Distinct Population Segments and Experimental Populations, by Kristina Alexander and M. Lynne Corn.

Date of Report: July 14, 2011
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: R41730
Price: $29.95

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