U.S. seeks to lift endangered species protection for gray wolf

Feds plan to lift endangered species protections for gray wolves nationwide

Feds plan to lift endangered species protections for gray wolves nationwide

The Fish & Wildlife Service, part of the U.S. Interior Department, has tried multiple times - through the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations - to delist wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and MI, saying the big predators have fully recovered here after brushing with extinction in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose lifting protections for wolves across the Lower 48 states.

Sarah Ryan, executive director of the Washington Cattlemen's Association, said the work to delist gray wolves used "scientific and commercial data" that could pave the way for more loosening of wolf protections beyond those under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Further details about the delisting were expected during a formal announcement planned in coming days.

Wildlife advocates reacted with outrage and promised to challenge in court any attempt to lift protections.

Long despised by farmers and ranchers, wolves were shot, trapped and poisoned out of existence in most of the U.S.by the mid-20th century. Now more than 5,000 of the animals live in the contiguous U.S. In 2011, they were delisted in the Western Great Lakes area (including Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin) and then relisted again in 2014.

Protections for Northern Rockies states' wolves were lifted in 2011 and hundreds are now killed annually by hunters.

Still, that number represents solid growth since the canids first began to repopulate the state about a decade ago, wildlife officials have said. The animals are prolific breeders and can adapt to a variety of habitats.

In western OR, wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act and are managed by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. Hunting already is allowed in the Northern Rockies states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

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Wildlife advocates say plans to lift protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states could halt the predators' recovery in many areas where they've been exterminated. The species' status under the Endangered Species Act has been contested for years.

The disagreement between the two groups came to a head earlier this year when conservationists pulled out of negotiations over changes to the state's controversial wolf management plan. Environmental and conservation groups have torpedoed motions to delist the wolf with lawsuits that courts use to block proposed rules.

Lifting protections would allow hunters to kill wolves and likely slow their expansion. If wolves are returned to state management, he said, "I do worry that some of the states could be overly aggressive and that wolves could fare worse than their current condition".

This newest proposal would mean wolves in the western parts of both states would no longer receive federal Endangered Species Act protections.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials disclosed to the AP previous year that another scientific review of the animal's status had been launched.

"Once the proposed rule has published in the Federal Register, the public will have an opportunity to comment", said a US Fish and Wildlife service spokesperson.

"We don't have any confidence that wolves will be managed like other wildlife", she said. "We're going to fight this in any way possible".

"We are prepared for this proposal, as we have an existing wolf conservation and management plan that covers all of Washington state", Mick Copeland, Fish and Wildlife deputy assistant director, said in a statement. The farmers and ranchers will respect state regulations aimed at managing wolf populations, he said.

"They have to make it through Wyoming and Idaho to get to Colorado, and that simply won't happen", Bachman said. That decision was upheld in 2017 by a federal appeals court decision, keeping wolves protected across the region to this point. A similar effort by lawmakers ended protections for Northern Rockies wolves.

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