Trump Administration Returns Management and Protection of Gray Wolves to States and Tribes

October 29, 2020

More than 45 years after gray wolves were first listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Trump Administration and its many conservation partners are announcing the successful recovery of the gray wolf and its delisting from the ESA. U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt was at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge to announce that state and tribal wildlife management agency professionals will resume responsibility for sustainable management and protection of delisted gray wolves in states with gray wolf populations, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) monitors the species for five years to ensure the continued success of the species. 

Click Play to listen to the Public Lands Councils Exec. Dir. Kaitlynn Glover discuss the wolf delisting announcement. 

The Service based its final determination solely on the best scientific and commercial data available, a thorough analysis of threats and how they have been alleviated and the ongoing commitment and proven track record of states and tribes to continue managing for healthy wolf populations once delisted. This analysis includes the latest information about the wolf’s current and historical distribution in the contiguous United States 

“Today’s action reflects the Trump Administration’s continued commitment to species conservation based on the parameters of the law and the best scientific and commercial data available,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery. Today’s announcement simply reflects the determination that this species is neither a threatened nor endangered species based on the specific factors Congress has laid out in the law.”

In total, the gray wolf population in the lower 48 states is more than 6,000 wolves, greatly exceeding the combined recovery goals for the Northern Rocky Mountains and Western Great Lakes populations.

The gray wolf is the latest in a strong list of ESA recoveries that includes the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, American alligator, brown pelican and 48 other species of animals and plants in U.S. states, territories and waters. Countless more have improved or stabilized. Collectively, these successes demonstrate that the ESA can make a difference for imperiled species.

No administration in history has recovered more imperiled species in their first term than the Trump Administration. Since 2017, thirteen species – and now the gray wolf – have been determined to not be either a threatened species or endangered species under the ESA’s List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, and another seven species have been downlisted from endangered species to threatened species. To provide context for this in looking at other administrations in their first term, the Obama Administration recovered six species; the Bush Administration recovered eight species; and the Clinton Administration recovered nine species.

“President Trump’s Administration has focused on proactive measures, including partnerships with organizations, to ensure listed species flourish to the point of recovery,” said Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Aurelia Skipwith. “Today is a win for the gray wolf and the American people. I am grateful for these partnerships with States and Tribes and their commitment to sustainable management of wolves that will ensure the species long-term survival following this delisting.”

By the early part of the 20th century, the gray wolf had become scarce across almost the entire landscape of the lower 48 states. But, the dedicated efforts of partners that included states, tribes, conservation organizations and private landowners working together under the auspices of the ESA, brought this great predator back to healthy, stable numbers. Gray wolves in the United States exist primarily as two large, genetically diverse, stable to growing populations broadly distributed across several contiguous U.S. States, with an additional large population in Alaska that was never listed.

Gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains, where a healthy and sustainable population roams across Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and eastern portions of Oregon and Washington, were previously delisted. These states have since managed this delisted population effectively and responsibly. Wolves have even expanded into western Oregon, western Washington, northern California and most recently in northwest Colorado. 

The Western Great Lakes wolf population in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, the largest outside Alaska, is also strong and stable. These states have been key partners in wolf recovery efforts and have made a commitment to continue their activities. The states of Washington, Oregon, California and Colorado are also committed to conserving wolves, as demonstrated by their development of management plans and laws protecting wolves.

This final rule excludes Mexican wolves as that species remains listed under the ESA. The final rule will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

More information is online at


Fish and wildlife conservation depends on federal partnerships with states, landowners, and most importantly sportsmen who directly fund – to the tune of $1 billion last year alone and more than $23 billion since inception – conservation efforts by purchasing hunting and fishing licenses, fishing tackle, ammunition, boating fuel and other recreational items. 


To support stronger on-the-ground conservation efforts, encourage private actions to benefit our most imperiled species and provide greater legal certainty for ESA determinations, the Service updated its ESA regulations in 2019 to improve the implementation of the law. The regulations hadn’t been updated since the ESA passed some forty years ago. However, those changes did not modify the five statutory factors that are considered for each listing determination.


“The Montana Stockgrowers Association commend the action taken to delist the gray wolf, as the species has exceeded its recovery goals. States regaining oversight will ensure continued commitment of maintaining healthy wolf populations. Management is always more impactful and effective when managed by the state. We applaud the administration, the Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for moving this effort successfully forward,” said Montana Stockgrowers Association President Fred Wacker.

“Today’s announcement is welcome news for public lands ranchers who have spent decades defending their livestock from wolves while also defending previous delisting rules in court. By returning gray wolves to state management, we are giving long-overdue recognition to a conservation victory under the Endangered Species Act and returning to a state wildlife management model that has demonstrated success for thousands of other species. I look forward to the next chapter in management of this species that allows ranchers, biologists, and government officials to continue to work together for the benefit of our communities, our economies, and our wildlife because the best decisions always come from those closest to the subject,” stated Public Lands Council (PLC) President Niels Hansen

“Today’s announcement recognizes science-based evidence that has long shown that gray wolf populations are strong, and decades of recovery efforts have been successful. The recovery of the species is one of the Endangered Species Act’s greatest success stories, and now it’s time to move to the next chapter: successful state management for the future. NCBA has been there every step of the way and will continue to support the Department of the Interior in promoting science and law, rather than emotion and politics. Thank you to the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service teams who have set the stage for state managers to work with ranchers, biologists, and experts to protect communities, livestock, and wildlife,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Marty Smith.

“Wolf delisting should be considered one of the great successes of the Endangered Species Act. They have recovered and are doing very well under state management in the West,” said Montana Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President John Youngberg.

“The American Sheep Industry Association commends the Department of the Interior for the successful recovery of the gray wolf population under the ESA and returning management of this species to the states. We are confident that this will ensure the continued sustainable population while also providing more tools to manage interactions between wolves, the public and domestic livestock,” said American Sheep Industry Association President Benny Cox.

“This is an Endangered Species Act success story. The gray wolf joins more than 50 other animals, including the bald eagle, as an example of how careful management and partnerships between federal and state agencies can result in the successful recovery of a once-threatened species. The gray wolf population is now thriving so it is appropriate to turn management over to the states, which can oversee the species in a way that is most appropriate for each region,” stated American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duval.

“The gray wolf was delisted in Montana in 2011, and ever since the state took over management of the species, population numbers have stayed well above the minimum sustainable levels for survival and recovery,” said Ravalli County, Montana Commissioner Greg Chilcott. “State and local governments are ready and willing partners helping to implement sound, scientific policies on the ground to protect the wolf and our communities. The recovery of gray wolf populations in the lower-48 states is a significant ESA success story showing what can be achieved when governments at all levels work together. I applaud the administration for taking the next step with today’s decision to delist the gray wolf in these states.”

“The Outdoor Heritage Coalition would like to express its sincere gratitude for your outstanding leadership and dedication to wildlife conservation. The nationwide delisting of the wolf is a major factor in sound wildlife management practices. Returning management authority to the states is a key first step in a long road to recovery for many struggling ungulate populations across the country,” stated the Outdoor Heritage Coalition, Montana

“For over ten years the State of Wyoming, together with our sister states of Idaho and Montana, has demonstrated the ability to manage an ever-increasing delisted wolf population. Wyoming accomplished this with a steady hand despite periodic re-listings mandated by the courts. State management succeeds in large part because state management plans are developed in close collaboration with local, directly affected interests. We commend the USFWS for this nation-wide delisting that is long overdue. Successful delisting of this high-profile species will serve to incentivize diverse partnerships that can expedite the recovery of many other listed or imperiled species,” stated Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna.

“The Department of the Interior should be commended for its work in recovering and delisting the gray wolf in the lower 48 states,” said U.S. Senator Mike Lee (UT). “Multiple states, including Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington already manage healthy and sustainable gray wolf populations. Now, under expanded state management, impacted communities will be able to determine how best to preserve gray wolf populations while protecting other native species and livestock.”

“I applaud the Administration’s final rule that delists the gray wolf in the lower 48 states. Federal protections restored healthy gray wolf populations years ago, and this rule appropriately returns the management of gray wolves to the states,” said U.S. Representative Collin Peterson (MN-07). “For years, I have called for this change on behalf of livestock owners and rural communities in Minnesota. This final rule allows Minnesota to set rules and protections for gray wolves that are more responsive to the needs of local communities.”

“Thanks to the Trump administration’s leadership, management of gray wolves can now return to the states, where it belongs,” said Governor of South Dakota Kristi Noem. “This announcement will provide more flexibility and protection to landowners and livestock producers working to make a living.”

 “Colorado Farm Bureau's members are happy to hear about the decision to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species List. It's a good thing any time a species can be brought back from the brink to healthy population levels. This is a testament to the science-based and collaborative process led by both state and federal wildlife officials. It further demonstrates that conservation efforts should continue to be focused on species restoration through partnership and collaboration, not through electoral politics or predetermined outcomes,” said Colorado Farm Bureau President Don Shawcroft.

“We are proud of our efforts in Wyoming to conserve the gray wolf’s habitat and population in consultation with federal agencies,” stated Sublette County, Wyoming Commissioner Joel Bousman. “Populations continue to thrive in the northern Rocky Mountains because states implemented scientific measures that balance the needs of the species and our residents at the same time. Today’s decision to delist the gray wolf in the lower-48 states is further proof that population recovery goals can be met when all levels of government work together in a collaborative manner.”

“Wolves are an iconic species…as are wild sheep. To treasure them is to trust professional management, supported by wildlife enthusiasts, to restore and sustain them. From the 1990s reintroduction into the Yellowstone ecosystem to today the Wild Sheep Foundation has worked with our NGO and wildlife agency partners to ensure wolves are managed by those best able to conserve them - the state professionals and the citizens who live with them. WSF applauds the Department of the Interior for recognizing the ESA is being misused and taking action to correct this situation for the benefit of wolves, other wildlife, and people,” said Wild Sheep Foundation President & CEO Gray N. Thornton.

“For many Oregon ranchers, the last 13 years have been filled with countless hours spent and thousands of miles driven to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Oregon, and many other stakeholders to develop a strong wolf management plan for our state. Today we see the culmination of that work. Today we see why celebrating successes under the Endangered Species Act is so important. The Act should not be a tool to be manipulated for political gain, but to shape a healthier future for a once-imperiled population. This day is long overdue. Thank you to Director Skipwith and Secretary Bernhardt for prioritizing sound science and returning gray wolves to state management where they belong,” said Oregon Public Lands Committee Chairman Matt McElligott.

Source: DOI, Photo National Park Service