The tragic killing of a gray wolf mistaken for a coyote in North Dakota’s Walsh County recently is a painful reminder of why wolves still need federal endangered species protections.
This poor creature was the first known wolf in North Dakota since one was confirmed in Bowman County in December 2014. Before that, hunters in McKenzie County killed one in 2012.
These wolf deaths are bad for North Dakota’s ecosystems, which are out of balance without large carnivores.
Because wolves target the weak, diseased, old and injured, they help keep prey populations of deer and elk more vigorous. Wolves also promote biodiversity by preventing prey from overgrazing vegetation, degrading habitat and harming other native wildlife.
The death of this wolf is a blow to wolf recovery in the state.
Although wolves elsewhere in the country have made significant progress under the protections of the Endangered Species Act, they are nowhere near fully recovered.
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Wolves have returned to only about 10 percent of their historic range in the United States and could return to areas of North Dakota with abundant prey, such as the Badlands — if people would stop killing them.
Indeed, with Endangered Species Act protections, the wolf population in Minnesota grew and wolves dispersed to begin repopulating Wisconsin and then Michigan. Recovery to additional Midwest and Great Lakes states depends on the protections afforded by the act.
But if elected officials from those areas have their way, wolves will be stripped of federal protections. Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota are pushing for removing those protections to appease livestock producers and trophy hunters. They have introduced legislation in Congress, HR424 and S164, that would remove federal protections without any review by the courts and turn wolf management over to states.
As an attorney working for more than a decade to protect wolves and stop cruel wildlife exploitation, I know these bills would be devastating.
We’ve already seen how states treat wolves when they are allowed management. As soon as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed wolf protections — prematurely — in 2012, Minnesota and Wisconsin worked to open trophy hunting and trapping seasons, contributing to a 25 percent decline in Minnesota.
When the court restored protections, wolf populations in Minnesota began to rebound. That shows that the Endangered Species Act works.
Wolves are an important part of our natural heritage but were driven to the brink of extinction across much of the country more than a century ago. They deserve a real chance at recovery. And, for starters, that means continued federal protections in Minnesota and across the Midwest and more tolerance for them on the ground.
One day, hopefully, we’ll see them breeding again in North Dakota.
Collette Adkins is a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.