Two U.S. senators announced a renewed push Thursday to strip federal protection from gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region and Wyoming — and to prohibit courts from intervening in those states on the embattled predator's behalf.
Legislation introduced this week would order the Department of the Interior to reissue orders from 2011 and 2012 that dropped wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Wyoming from the endangered species list.
"After over 30 years of needed protection and professional pack population management, the wolf has made its comeback," said Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who sponsored the measure with fellow Republican John Barrasso of Wyoming. Similar legislation was introduced earlier this year in the House.
Wolves are well-established in the western Great Lakes and Northern Rockies after being shot, poisoned and trapped into near-extermination in the lower 48 states in the last century. Only a remnant pocket in northern Minnesota remained when the species was added to the federal endangered list in 1974.
Altogether, their estimated population now exceeds 5,000.
But animal protection advocates contend the wolves' situation remains uncertain and have sued repeatedly over more than a decade over federal efforts to remove the shield provided by the Endangered Species Act, which prohibits killing them except in defense of human life.
Wolves occupy less than 10 percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states, meaning they are far from recovered, said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
"Even in the areas where there are wolves, they still face extensive persecution," Greenwald said.
A federal district judge in September 2014 restored endangered status to wolves in Wyoming. A different judge did likewise for Great Lakes wolves in December, saying the states were not providing adequate safeguards.
The Senate bill would ban courts from overruling the Department of Interior again on the matter. Congress imposed a similar requirement in 2011 to prevent judges from restoring protected status to wolves in Idaho and Montana, the first time lawmakers had directly removed a species from the endangered list.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an Interior Department agency, is nearing a final decision on whether to lift protections for wolves across the remainder of the lower 48 states, except for a fledgling population of Mexican gray wolves in the desert Southwest.