There are about 50 wolves in the Pacific Northwest that range between Washington, Oregon and northern California, but only a tiny handful of them are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. That’s why Defenders and 23 other conservation groups sent a letter to President Obama today, asking his administration to maintain those protections until the population has fully recovered.
When Congress delisted wolves in the Northern Rockies last year, wolves in eastern Washington and eastern Oregon lost their protection as well. But wolves in the western portion of those states are located outside of the Northern Rockies “distinct population segment” and thus still remain listed under the ESA. However, another anticipated delisting from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could strip federal protections for gray wolves across the entire lower 48, including the Pacific Northwest.
There are currently two packs in Washington—the Lookout and Teanaway packs—that reside in the western portion of the state. A lone male wolf has also spent the last eight months traveling between southwest Oregon and northern California. These are the only known wolves in the Pacific Northwest that are currently protected under the federal ESA.
“Wolves have made an incredible comeback in the Rockies, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up on wolf recovery in the West,” said Pamela Flick, California program coordinator with Defenders of Wildlife. “Californians deserve the chance to see wolves returned to their former habitat in our state too, and maintaining federal protections across the Pacific Northwest is the best way to make sure that happens.”
Defenders and our colleagues are urging the Fish and Wildlife Service to create a new distinct population segment for the Pacific Northwest to maintain federal protections until wolves have fully recovered. While Oregon and Washington already have plans in place to restore wolves, protection under the federal ESA will commit additional resources to wolf recovery in the region. It also provides an extra safety net in case either state starts managing wolves too aggressively. Both Oregon and Washington have done a reasonably good job so far, but wildlife managers are under increasing pressure from anti-wolf extremists to limit wolf numbers.
In California, however, wolves could be without any safety net whatsoever if federal protections are eliminated. Defenders is working closely with California Department of Fish and Game to come up with a solid state management plan, but it’s still a ways off. The state is currently considering adding wolves to the state endangered species list, but there’s no guarantee of such protections.
We must act now to prevent this unwarranted delisting, before it’s too late. Wolves in the Pacific Northwest need full protection of the federal ESA to give them the best chance to recover.