The Natural Resources Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would permanently remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species List.
The bill, dubbed the “Trust the Science Act,” was introduced by Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert and co-sponsored by 24 additional Republicans. Boebert argues that the wolf population in the lower 48 is well above initial goals and that states have proven that they can manage their populations.
“Let’s do as my bill says and trust the bipartisan science and pass this bill so we can finally delist the recovered gray wolf and focus scarce taxpayer funding on endangered species that actually need help being recovered,” she told her colleagues in an April 27 committee hearing.
The legislation would give the Secretary of the Interior 60 days to reissue a 2020 rule that delisted wolves in the lower 48. That rule was overturned by a judge in 2022, which restored protections for wolves in 44 states.
Rep. Boebert’s legislation would restore the 2020 rule and clarify that once this rule is reissued, it will not be subject to judicial review. In other words, if this bill passes the House and the Senate and is signed by the President, the rule could not be challenged in court by conservation or animal rights groups.
Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell tried to pass an amendment removing the judicial review language, but the committee voted against it.
“I appreciate the gentlelady’s sincerity in wanting to fix some of these issues,” committee chairman Rep. Bruce Westerman said. “I do oppose this amendment because I believe it… puts back in place what the bill’s trying to do, and that is to remove the litigants from stopping the science and the management.”
Westernman points out that wolf delisting occurred during both the Obama and Trump administrations, and so he reiterated Boebert’s hope that this will be a bipartisan bill.
No Democrats signed up to cosponsor this bill, and no Democrats voted for it in the 21-16 party-line committee vote. The Republicans control the House by a very slim margin, and the Democrats control the Senate and the White House. The lack of Democratic support spells trouble for this legislation moving forward.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has attempted several times to delist gray wolves in the lower 48 since the animals were reintroduced in the late 1990s. The latest attempt occurred in 2020, but a federal judge in California vacated the rule in 2022. The judge’s ruling re-listed wolves across the lower 48 with the exception of the packs in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, along with parts of Oregon, Washington, and northcentral Utah. There are currently about 6,000 wolves in the lower 48.
Congress has weighed in on this debate several times in the past. In 2011, Congress passed a statute directing the FWS to delist wolves in Idaho and Montana. The next year, the FWS delisted the population in Wyoming after they received another directive from Congress.