The government is us; we are the government, you and I. -Theodore Roosevelt

Managing Wolves for Durable Delisting

By Charlie Booher

Wolves are perhaps the most controversial species of wildlife in North America. Hundreds of people from Boise to Washington, D.C. work on the policies that govern the management and conservation of these charismatic animals. 

Today, statewide jurisdiction of wolves rightly resides with fish and wildlife commissions in three states: Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. These wolves are “de-listed” meaning that, after decades of conservation efforts and some help from Congress, they have come off the endangered species list. The rest of the wolves in the lower-48 states, which occur mainly in the Great Lakes States of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, are “listed” and remain governed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the authority of the Endangered Species Act.

This variance in governance shows us that wolf management is at a crossroads. As a conservation community, we are facing a collective choice about whether we may enter a new era of wolf management—it is clearly no longer persecution, nor wholesale protection and recovery. Still, we have not yet reached a stable equilibrium. We have an ongoing opportunity to bring wolves further into the fold of state management and oversee their management as regulated wildlife, which requires a measured approach. 

While wolves in the Northern Rockies, including eastern Oregon and Washington, are not currently on the Endangered Species List, state wolf management has been challenged. The USFWS is currently in the midst of a 12-month review of the status of the species in these range states—and will be forced to decide whether they merit re-listing. Concurrently, these states have held biennial legislative sessions, and their wildlife agencies are crafting new wolf management plans. Revisions to these wolf management plans must continue to justify how the states will concurrently meet their goals for other wildlife and livestock protection, as well as the national interest in restoring wolves south of the 49th Parallel.

The Boone and Crockett Club supports state and Tribal wildlife agencies’ ability to manage wolves and refine their management and has been working with state and federal leaders to ensure these policies will not jeopardize the current delisted status of the wolf. 

In a recent letter to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks regarding the development of their new management plan, Boone and Crockett Club CEO Tony Schoonen wrote: “The plan must ensure that its objectives are justified by science and its means are justified by ethics. Objectives to control or reduce wolf population size or distribution must be explained by measurable results expected in big game or livestock loss objectives. Means of control or reduction must be explained by the ethics appropriate to them. For example, wolf harvest by hunters and trappers should be bound to the ethic of Fair Chase. Wolf control by management actions should be bound to the ethics of animal welfare, such that professional removal of wolves is conducted in the most humane manner possible.”

The Club’s approach in Idaho was quite similar. 

“The Boone and Crockett Club supports Idaho Fish & Game’s authority to manage wolves,” said Schoonen to Field & Stream last month. “However, state wolf management is still not secure across the Lower 48. All states and Tribes currently managing wolves must carefully consider how their decisions will be interpreted in Washington, D.C. and whether their actions could jeopardize their state’s ability to keep management of these keystone species.”

It’s clear that merely passing the FWS’ test as an “adequate regulatory mechanism” under the Endangered Species Act is not enough. The larger challenge facing these states is showing the entire country that a species once eliminated, then restored, can now be managed alongside the many other species for which state management has succeeded so well. Continued coordination between the states and FWS on a professional basis will ensure management decisions can continue being made in Helena, Boise, and Cheyenne. 

Of course, state management of any species comes with its own suite of issues. We must recognize the difficulty of saying what the population should be and the technical reality of achieving those goals. There will always be people who want more or fewer wolves, just like with any other species, but we cannot have that debate at the appropriate venue—a wildlife commission, where all other management policies are made—if they’re re-listed. 

Wolves are here to stay and are part of the ecosystems of the states where they now exist. That poses several challenges. However, the Boone and Crockett Club exists to “promote the conservation and management of wildlife, especially big game, and its habitat, to preserve and encourage hunting and to maintain the highest ethical standards of fair chase and sportsmanship in North America.” Wolf conservation is a pivotal issue to our success.

B&C Position Statement - Endangered Species Act

The Boone and Crockett Club believes the ESA is a critical tool and supports modernizing the ESA to make it more effective in promoting the active restoration of species. However, there seems to be a reluctance to acknowledge that we can do better (especially by activist organizations that could lose the financial incentives to sue the Act now provides). Since the Act was passed in 1973, the world has witnessed significant technological and scientific advancement in wildlife management. These innovations must be considered and adopted in the implementation of the ESA. Read More


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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt