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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

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 U.S. 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, Section 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. P.L. 112-10 further prohibits judicial challenge of the delisting.

In December 2011, FWS delisted wolves in the Western Great Lakes area. In addition, FWS 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. On September 30, 2012, wolves in Wyoming were delisted.

A five-year review of gray wolf populations completed in February 2012 indicated that FWS found few gray wolves outside of the delisted areas, leading some to believe FWS would delist the species. The review recommends removing areas where wolves have not been found from the historic range of the gray wolf: the Southeast, the Northeast, and the Great Plains. FWS will consider whether the presence of two confirmed packs in the Pacific Northwest (outside of the delisted areas) should be designated a distinct population segment. FWS recommended that the listing status of the gray wolf “remain intact” until the regional status reviews are completed.

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: May 15, 2013
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R41730
Price: $29.95

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R41730.pdf  to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


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