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Conserving the Nature of America

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

History of Decline, Protection and Recovery



Jan. 31, 2005, Oregon District Court Rules Against Gray Wolf Reclassification

In order to have the gray wolf's Endangered Species Act (ESA) status match its recovery progress, in April 2003 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) changed the listing status and protections for the species in 3 ways:


• The previous listing of the species was divided into 3 distinct population segments (DPS);

• Gray wolves in two of the DPSs were reclassified from endangered to threatened; and

• Wolves in portions of the Eastern DPS and part of the Western DPS became subject to special regulations under section 4(d) of the ESA that allowed state and tribal natural resource officials, under certain conditions, to "take" those wolves that are attacking domestic animals.


A January 31, 2005, ruling from the U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon, vacated and enjoined the Service's 2003 changes to the ESA listing and protections for the gray wolf in the United States and Mexico. The Oregon ruling concluded that the 2003 DPS boundaries and reclassification decisions were "arbitrary and capricious" and violated the Endangered Species Act. The Court's ruling invalidated the April 2003 changes.


January 31, 2005 Oregon Court Opinion and Ruling (PDF)


Therefore, the status of the gray wolf reverted back to the Endangered Species Act status that existed prior to the 2003 reclassification. Specifically …


• Gray wolves in Minnesota are classified as threatened, as a result of a 1978 reclassification;

• Gray wolves in the remaining 47 conterminous states and Mexico are endangered, except where they are listed as part of an Experimental Population for reintroduction purposes (throughout Wyoming and in portions of Montana, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas);

• The 1994 and 1998 Experimental Population Regulations (under section 10(j) of the ESA) remain in effect for the Experimental Populations in the West and Southwest;

• The Special Regulations that apply to Minnesota wolves remain in effect; and

• The 2003 Special Regulations (under section 4(d) of the ESA) are not being implemented, because such regulations can only be applied to threatened species.


The U.S. District Court in Vermont made a similar ruling regarding the gray wolf reclassification. In December 2005 the Justice Department made a decision not to appeal the Oregon and Vermont District Court rulings.


In 2004, the Service proposed removing ESA protections ("delist") for all gray wolves in the Eastern Distinct Population Segment. However, because the Oregon ruling vacated the three DPS designations, the Service could not finalize that proposal.


Chronology of Federal Actions
Gray Wolves in the Western Great Lakes States