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Federal status changes legality of killing gray wolves in South Dakota

A U.S. District Court ruling in California has ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must put gray wolves back on the Endangered Species Act protection list.

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PIERRE, S.D. — A U.S. District Court ruling in California has ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must put gray wolves back on the Endangered Species Act protection list, with the exception of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountain states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, and in New Mexico.

The ruling means that the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks no longer has management authority over gray wolves and they can no longer be hunted or trapped in South Dakota, the department said Monday, Feb. 14.

In the written decision issued Feb. 10, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White wrote that the USFWS relied on too small of a population analysis on a regional basis in order to delist wolves nationally across the lower 48 United States and "failed to provide a reasonable interpretation of the 'significant portion of its range' standard" in order to revoke the previous rule protecting the wolves.

On Jan. 4, 2021, the gray wolf was de-listed as a federally protected species following 45 years of protection under the Endangered Species Act. In South Dakota, the action allowed GF&P to manage wolves as a predator as defined in state law.

Under GF&P’s management authority, trappers, sportsmen and women, landowners and livestock producers had the ability to harvest gray wolves across the state. Now, because wolves are no longer under GF&P management, individuals may only harvest a gray wolf if it is posing a danger to human life. South Dakota did not have a designated wolf hunting season in the period where the gray wolves were de-listed and the GF&P previously indicated it did not support gray wolf expansion in South Dakota.


“Over the past few years, South Dakota has had a handful of gray wolves killed on both sides of the Missouri River; however, South Dakota does not have a resident gray wolf population,” South Dakota GF&P Wildlife Director Tom Kirschenmann said in a news release. “The gray wolves that have been present in South Dakota are transient animals that have dispersed from populations east and west of the state.”

Defenders of Wildlife, which was one of the parties that sued the USFWS over the decision, said that restoring the federal protections of wolves means they will "receive the necessary support to recover and thrive in the years ahead."

"By restoring these protections, gray wolves will be able to reinhabit parts of their historic range across the United States. As wolves are top predators, their expansion will have major ecological benefits," the organization said, while vowing to work with livestock producers and ranchers to reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock.

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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