A bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert would usurp the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and delist the gray wolf as an endangered species.
H.R. 764, known as the “Trust the Science Act,” would reinstate a Trump-era rule that removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list. Wolves were first federally protected in the late 1960s, and the gray wolf itself was reclassified as its own endangered species in 1978.
Since 2011, the species’ status has been in flux as policymakers and wolf advocates on both sides have clashed over whether to maintain stringent protections or loosen protection for the gray wolf. In 2020, the FWS issued a final rule delisting the species, but the rule was overturned, reinstating their endangered status, in early 2022.
Wolves’ listing makes the species essentially untouchable when it comes to lethal management.
Now, Boebert is calling upon her colleagues in Congress to permanently remove protections. The congresswoman has argued that the bill would return wolf management to the states and benefit sportsmen and ranchers, many of whom are her constituents.
She says the bill is necessary in the context of Colorado’s decision to reintroduce the gray wolf – voters approved the proposition in 2020 and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission approved the reintroduction plan Wednesday.
“It was a very slim margin that this proposition passed here in Colorado, and also Wolves don't adhere to arbitrary boundaries and so this is going to affect the surrounding states,” Boebert said in an interview with The Durango Herald. “But now, if this gets signed all the way into law, states will have the opportunity to manage those wolves that do not abide by those arbitrary boundaries so they can protect their wildlife in their state.”
She has stated that wolves are a threat not only to livestock and wildlife, but to humans.
Dialogue on wolf management has grown rife with partisanship. Although Boebert has suggested that science is “nonpartisan,” all of the bill’s 24 sponsors are Republicans.
Boebert invoked a common refrain to explain this: “My colleagues on the other side of the aisle want more government involvement in every area, and I want limited government,” she said.
However, much to the chagrin of environmentalists, the Biden administration has joined appeals of the 2022 relisting and sought to remove protections for the gray wolf.
When asked about this bipartisan support for removing protections – albeit through vastly different administrative procedures – Boebert said “I have not heard that,” although she has cited the same fact in public hearings.
Perhaps one explanation for the absence of a bipartisan rally around nonpartisan science is that there is no clear consensus on whether the species has recovered.
According to a 2020 biological report conducted by the FWS, wolves have made an unequivocal comeback since 1978, when there were no reproducing packs and the gray wolf “occurred in only a small fraction of its historical range.”
Today, the estimated population in the Western U.S. is over 1,900 wolves, with an additional 4,200 animals in the Great Lakes region.
However, wolves still occupy only a fraction of their historical territory. Only one breeding wolf pair is thought to exist in Colorado.
When asked to cite a specific study demonstrating the full recovery, Boebert did not. Instead, she said the Fish and Wildlife’s initial population goal for wolf recovery was 650 animals.
“We have more than 6,000 and there are more than 30,000 in Canada. I think that's pretty clear science, that's pretty clear data that the population is thriving and growing,” she said.
The population target size of 650 could not be verified, although a spokesman for Boebert said it came from the House Natural Resources Committee but did not provide further citation.
“There is no scientific basis for thinking that wolves occupy enough of their former range to be anything but an ‘endangered species,’” wrote John Vucetich in a letter to the Committee on Natural Resources.
Vucetich is a professor at the College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Technological University and an expert in wolves and their relationship to their prey.
“It is beyond ironic that representative Boebert’s legislation is called Trust the Science Act when that is precisely what she is attempting to undo,” said Kristen Boyles, a managing attorney with Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental group. “... No, there is no consensus that the wolf is recovered. There's certainly no consensus that it’s recovered nationwide.”
The Trust the Science Act has passed the Committee on Natural Resources and is headed to the House floor.