House votes to strip ESA wolf protections, & block judicial oversight

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives voted 196 to 180 along heavily partisan lines to approve a bill (H.R. 6784) to de-list the gray wolf nationwide under the Endangered Species Act, and to block courts from considering violations of federal law for wolves under the Endangered Species Act. The Mexican wolf subspecies is specifically excluded from this legislation.

“The Endangered Species Act requires that when species reach the brink of extinction, decisions are made solely based on the best available science, yet today’s vote shows the hubris of putting politicians with no scientific background in charge, wresting these critical decisions away from professional scientists,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project.

Wolves currently are missing from more than 83% of their original native range. “Wolves are just beginning to recolonize their original habitats in places like Oregon and California, and remain completely absent from large expanses of suitable habitat like the Colorado Rockies,” said Molvar. “Wolves are necessary to restore the natural ecological balance that has been missing for more than a century.

Despite some regionally-specific decisions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has never rendered a de-listing decision that would apply to the entire lower-48 states, which is what the bill seeks to do. Thus, there is no scientific basis for the proposed law, a fundamental requirement of ESA decisions. The bill sparked lively debate on the House floor.

“Delisting decisions are best kept in the hands of scientists,” said Rep. Beyer (D-VA). “Someday, I would like to see wolves in Virginia. But for now it is important to protect the merely 6,000 that we have in the lower 48 today.” Rep. Fitzpatrick (R-PA) added, “Delisting is premature and ill-advised.”

Rep. DeFazio (D-OR) presented a chart showing that 74% of cattle losses are due to health issues, 7.8% due to weather, 0.2% due to wolves. He told of a rancher who had a calf killed by wolves, and said, “It’s sad that that calf didn’t get to grow up and go to the slaughterhouse.” But, he concluded of the wolf de-listing bill, “It’s going nowhere in the Senate.”

Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ) reflected on the widespread popularity of the ESA among the American public, and its effectiveness. “The ESA has a near-perfect record of saving imperiled species,” said Rep. Grijalva. “These types of attacks on the ESA will not be legitimized in the next Congress.”

The bill passed this morning also blocks the delisting of wolves from being challenged in court, preventing independent judges from overturning decisions that violate federal law.

“The State of Wyoming has been a bloodthirsty opponent of wolf recovery from day one, with a wolf management plan that turns 85% of the state into a free-fire zone where any wolf can be shot at any time without season limits, without bag limits, and lacking any pretense of wildlife management principles,” said Molvar. “If there is one state in the Union that needs the federal court system looking over its shoulder, Wyoming is that state.”


Erik Molvar
Executive Director
Western Watersheds Project




  1. Frank Krosnicki Avatar
    Frank Krosnicki

    This bill is not about Wolves, it is about money! Once again, it is no doubt money that highly influenced this decision. Elected “officials” who most likely cannot tell a Husky or Coyote from a Wolf, help ranchers to continue the devastation of our lands by allowing domesticated cattle to graze on OUR public lands for a few cents per head of cattle. Also, with Wolves gone from the land, hunters can “enjoy” the hunt of artificially high numbers of Elk and Deer, who would once again congregate in Riparian areas. With domestic cattle grazing willy-nilly, this bill would put us back several decades in the restoration OUR waterways and forests. Add to this the push to allow recreational mountain biking in currently roadless areas, and we have a perfect recipe for the eventual loss of what Wilderness remains. Let’s hope the Senate does not go along with this bill.

    1. Sandra McGee Avatar
      Sandra McGee

      Frank – U know your stuff. Thanks & keep on telling the truth.

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Representatives DeFazio and Grijalva, two tireless advocates for the ESA and environmental issues.

    The barring of judicial review is shameful and undemocratic. This attempt, to me, is an impatient push by the state of Washington in their zeal to delist. It’s amazing how much influence the beef industry has in our government.

    You know that within hours (I’m just barely exaggerating), a hunting season will be put in place in Washington, a state with just over 100 wolves, and for the Great Lakes, definitely. Prove me wrong.

    California will probably be the only state we can depend on to do the right thing.

    Thanks for this post!

  3. Yvette Avatar

    And here we go. Will an attorney explain to me how this is legal?

    (1) shall not be subject to judicial review; and

    If it is legal and if this bill passes the Senate as it likely will can another bill be written to counter this one when the new representatives take office?

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      Don’t see why not, but if it doesn’t pass this senate, it won’t pass the next onez

    2. JB Avatar


      As I understand it, the standard for judicial review of ESA-related administrative decisions is the Administrative Procedures Act. Put simply, since an Act of Congress put the process in place, an Act of Congress can remove that process. (This language has no bearing on cases involving the Constitutionality of the law; that is, Congress can’t tell the SCOTUS what is within its purview to review.)

    3. Sandra McGee Avatar
      Sandra McGee

      I agree with Yvette.
      How is this legal?? It isn’t right I know that much. It’s bullshit is what it is.

      1. rork Avatar

        New legislation can alter previous legislation. The ESA is not in the constitution. It can be contradicted by new laws. Ida has also had repeated troubles getting that. JB is saying it more specifically, but it’s generally true. The courts can decide a new law is unconstitutional, but cannot reject legislation based on the merits (no matter how stupid), and obviously new laws trump old ones.

        It gets stranger in countries without codified constitutions (UK, New Zealand), but that’s crazy stuff.

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    As JB says, there’s no guarantee that the Supreme Court would even hear the case.

    It should never have gotten to this point in the first place; look how many wolves were killed in the meantime.

    The sarcastic idiom ‘it will take an Act of Congress’ is for a reason – ‘hard to obtain in a reasonable amount of time’. Unless you are trying to push through delisting wolf legislation.

  5. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    To me, it was almost a literal coup de grace for Tester and others to have supported the delisting in 2011, and it is going to be very, very hard to reverse, if ever. That decision was reluctantly upheld by a usually environmentally friendly judge because of binding precedent, not principle, in his words.

    Rep. DeFazio doesn’t think this latest attempt will pass the Senate, but I’m not so sure:

  6. Bruce Bowen Avatar
    Bruce Bowen

    I think the debate is really more about the triumph of capitalism and leaving resources open to exploitation. It’s like congress has to drive a dozer through environmental laws to clear a path for their rich patrons.

    Thus, the ESA has been made less effective over time. In former times (1970’s) government biologists did not have to worry about the economic or national security impacts or a bunch of administrative rules like the ‘reduction in paper work act’ when designating critical habitat. Now the process has been slowed down to the point it is not working.

    For congress it is important to create an illusion in which they appear to be concerned about the economy and welfare of the people, when they are primarily concerned about clearing a path for the rich elite to prosper. Wolves and snail darters make good scapegoats. Thus it is in the elites interest to get the population to commit the same four historical mistakes over and over:

    “Since the days of revelation, in fact the same four corrupting errors have been made over and over again: submission to faulty and unworthy authority; submission to what it was customary to believe; submission to the prejudices of the mob; and worst of all, concealment of ignorance by a false show of unheld knowledge, for no better reason than pride”. Roger Bacon

    Tyrants know about these weaknesses and keep using them against us.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan