The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have issued listing decisions on a number of species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in recent days, and USFWS has announced notable changes in its recovery strategy for the red wolf.
- On September 7, 2016, USFWS reopened the comment period for its proposed rule to remove the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population of grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) from the list of threatened species. The initial proposed rule emphasized that the States of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho needed to promulgate regulations managing human-caused mortality of grizzly bears before USFWS would proceed to a final rule, and such state mechanisms have recently been finalized.
During a House hearing on wolf conservation, Rep. Debbie Dingell claimed “the science is clear” that red wolves are not “hybrids” between coyotes and gray wolves. But the science is not clear — and the latest research has tipped the balance of evidence in favor of the hybrid hypothesis.
If recognized as a hybrid, the red wolf could risk losing protection under the Endangered Species Act — an outcome hunters, landowners and ranchers advocate, in part, because red wolves and other wolf species prey on livestock and deer. The new research may also influence the status of other wolf species under the act, such as the gray wolf and the eastern wolf.
In order to be eligible for federal protection under the act, a plant or animal must be classified as a distinct species, including “any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature.” However, the act lacks specific provisions for hybrids between endangered and unlisted species — making it unclear if the red wolf should continue to be protected.