The US Fish and Wildlife Service will again attempt to strip federal protection for gray wolves in the lower 48, after revealing a proposal this week to delist the animals from the Endangered Species Act. A raucous debate will now flare between ranchers, farmers, hunters, and industrial interests that support hunting wolves in order to lower their numbers to protect livestock and game animals, and conservationists and animal rights activists who want to keep protections in place, as wolves continue to rebound from near-extinction in the 1960s in states where they were historically wide-ranging.
This is the fourth presidential administration in a row that has tried to delist wolves from the ESA. Back in 2012, the USFWS removed their protections in the Great Lakes area, and hundreds were killed until a federal judge intervened to add wolves back to the list in 2014.
The rationale then is the same as it is now: wolf populations are growing and the animals are spreading throughout the Great Lakes, northern Rocky Mountains, Washington, Oregon, and California.
“Recovery of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act is one of our nation’s great conservation successes, with the wolf joining other cherished species, such as the bald eagle, that have been brought back from the brink with the help of the ESA,” said the USFWS in a statement.
Critics however, charge that the plan puts the interests of ag business over wolves and a functioning ecosystem.
“This disgusting proposal would be a death sentence for gray wolves across the country,” said Collette Adkins, a Minnesota-based attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration is dead set on appeasing special interests that want to kill wolves. We’re working hard to stop them.”
If the proposal by the FWS moves forward, individual states will be free to develop their own wolf management plans. Though states without such plans in place would also be on the hook to create them. Many wildlife officials in states that would be affected by the delisting were reportedly shocked by Interior’s decision.
While wolf populations in the lower 48 are indeed on the rise, rising from as few as 1,000 individuals in 1975 when they were first placed on the endangered list to at least 5,000 today, they still occupy only a fraction of the territory they once did from California to Michigan.
In the coming days, the proposal will be entered into the Federal Register, at which point a public comment period will be initiated.