Introduced by eight U.S. Representatives, HR 6485 (.pdf) provides that the inclusion of the gray wolf on any list of endangered or threatened species under Section 4 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) will have no force or effect. Titled the State Sovereignty Wildlife Management Act, the bill is one of several (see SB 3825 (.pdf) and SB 3864 (.pdf)) that has been introduced over the past few months with the goal of returning wolf management to the states. The proposed legislation is meant to improve the balance of both wolf and prey populations by allowing individual states to develop management plans that address their unique needs.
The recent bills, including HR 6485, have been proposed in response to a federal judge’s decision in August that resumed ESA protection for wolves in Montana and Idaho. In Defenders of Wildlife v. Salazar (.pdf), the issue before the court was whether de-listing the gray wolf in the states of Montana and Idaho, while leaving federal protections in place for wolves in Wyoming, violated the ESA. The court held that the entire region’s wolf population must be listed under the ESA, rather than the wolf’s status varying from state to state. The ESA protections for the gray wolf were subsequently reinstated in all three states.
The court’s decision has frustrated Montana’s and Idaho’s efforts to manage and control their growing wolf populations. According to the Helena Independent Record, the population of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies is more than 1700, which far exceeds the reintroduction goal of 300 when the wolf was originally listed under the ESA. Thus, according to its sponsors, the legislation will enable the states to control the wolf populations’ while limiting their effect on big game populations and local livestock.
Certain sponsors of the bill are hopeful about the possibility of attaching the bill in the lame-duck session, possibly as part of an omnibus spending bill or a continuing resolution. Others are unsure whether it will have an opportunity to pass, given that earlier wolf bills have had little success.