The House of Representatives voted 196-180 on Friday to drop legal protections for gray wolves across the lower 48. The legislation will next head to the Senate.
Nine Democrats joined Republicans in voting to advance the legislation, which was originally cosponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Twelve members of the GOP voted against the bill.
Dozens of lawmakers didn’t cast a vote in what has now become a lame duck session of Congress. That included Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, who will not return to Capitol Hill next year, and Western Washington Democrat Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
“Eastern Washington knows better how to manage our land and wildlife than someone sitting in a cubicle in Washington, D.C.,” McMorris Rodgers said in a statement Friday morning. “By delisting the gray wolf, we can allow people in our state and community to use science-based management practices that will benefit both our endangered and native animals while protecting farmers and ranchers. I was proud to be an original cosponsor of this bill because it is important to people here in Eastern Washington.”
The U.S. House of Representatives will vote Friday on whether to delist gray wolves.
If approved, the “Manage Our Wolves Act” would remove gray wolves from the federal Endangered Species List. It would also prohibit federal judicial review of the legislation.
The law would not affect the status of the Mexican gray wolf.
Sponsors of the bill, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Rep. Dan Newhouse, both R-Wash., say wolves have recovered to a point that they no longer need federal protection. Opponents of the bill say the apex predator still needs protections and the law would set a dangerous precedent in which politicians make decisions best reserved for scientists.
“Obviously we strongly oppose measures that would politically chip away support for the Endangered Species Act,” said Robert Dewey, vice president for government relations for Defenders of Wildlife. “But also substantively it would impact wolves that still enjoy protections under the ESA.”
Fifty other conservation groups authored a letter opposing the bill, including Earthjustice Eastern Washington Wolf Coalition, the Sierra Club and the Humane Society of the United States.
Conservation Northwest also opposes the bill.
In a statement, the National Wildlife Federation signaled support for delisting wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. However, the federation called the legislation as a whole “too broad.”
Conservation Northwest is a chapter of the National Wildlife Federation.
Defenders of Wildlife’s Dewey sees the bill as a larger trend under President Donald Trump’s administration to delist federally endangered species. In January, the federal government took the first steps toward delisting the Canada lynx.
McMorris Rodgers, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, wrote a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in June urging him to pursue delisting gray wolves nationwide.
“(I)ncompatibility between the Washington state management plan and the federal management plan creates a bureaucratic nightmare that leaves communities in Eastern Washington unable to defend themselves against increasing wolf attacks and livestock depredations,” she wrote.
Wolves are not federally listed as an endangered species in the eastern third of Washington. Wolves are federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state. The majority of Washington’s wolves live in that eastern third.
Nor are wolves federally protected in Idaho. The Rocky Mountain wolf population was first delisted in 2008.
“You know, it really kind of has no bearing,” said Jay Shepherd, the wolf program lead for Conservation Northwest, referring to the proposed law’s impact on Washington’s wolves. “The Rocky Mountain population … at the ecosystem level is stable. And it’s robust. And it’s not threatened or endangered with extinction.”
A minimum of 122 wolves, 22 packs and 14 successful breeding pairs was reported by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife this winter.
As of 2015, Idaho had roughly 790 wolves in 108 packs.
Wolves are also delisted in Montana, Wyoming, Eastern Oregon and part of Utah.
McMorris Rodgers is expected to speak Friday morning on the House floor in support of the bill. The vote is expected to occur in the morning.