U.S. plans to end endangered species protections for gray wolves

A remote camera image released by the U.S. Forest Service shows a female gray wolf and her mate with a pup born in 2017 in the wilds of Lassen National Forest in Northern California

A remote camera image released by the U.S. Forest Service shows a female gray wolf and her mate with a pup born in 2017 in the wilds of Lassen National Forest in Northern California

"Today, Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon propose a rule to delist the gray wolf in the lower 48 states and return management of the species to the states and tribes, " according to a statement from a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service spokesman. "Wolf recovery is progressing well in Washington and our wolves will remain a state endangered species until state recovery goals are met". There are now more than 5,000 living across the contiguous U.S.

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 there after brushing with extinction in the 1960s and 1970s. The most recent wolf population numbers reported by the two states are 122 in Washington and 124 in Oregon.

The proposal would give states the authority to hold wolf hunting and trapping seasons.

The agency has attempted to delist the gray wolf since 2003 after the animal's recovery passed the threshold to be considered endangered.

The Fish and Wildlife Service argues that the population has bounced back well enough to warrant lifting Endangered Species Act protections for the animals in the lower 48, but groups including the Endangered Species Coalition says that's just not true.

"We don't have any confidence that wolves will be managed like other wildlife", she said.

"There's no way that the population in the Rocky Mountains will ever join with the population in the Great Lakes region, so they will remain subpopulations, and you can't delist subpopulations, which is truly what this effort is about", Bachman said.

The move would have the most impact on Minnesota, Wisconsin and MI - and places where wolves haven't re-settled - because Congress already stripped wolves in Idaho and Montana of protections in 2011 and Wyoming wolves in 2017. State officials and government biologists say the region's wolves have continued to thrive despite pressure from hunting. Wildlife advocates have said gray wolf protections need to remain in place while they re-establish in their historic ranges.

Many wolves are killed because they are a danger to people or animals. Hunting already is allowed in the Northern Rockies states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

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John Vucetich, a wildlife biologist at Michigan Technological University, said most wolf experts probably would agree the species is not at imminent risk.

It will be the fourth straight administration to pursue a formal wolf delisting, with each effort so far thwarted by wolf protection groups and federal courts that deemed the previous efforts improper or unwarranted.

"We have a scientifically sound wolf conservation and management plan that was developed through years of stakeholder input from environmentalists and animal rights advocates to ranchers and farmers and hunters", Gunnell said.

The state's wolf management plan has been contentious since the endangered canids returned to Oregon.

The government first proposed revoking the wolf's protected status across the Lower 48 states in 2013.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials disclosed to the AP previous year that another scientific review of the animal's status had been launched. The new plan will reportedly appear in the federal register in the coming days.

The gray wolf received protection from the ESA in the 1970s, when the population dwindled due to declines in their prey populations and frequent conflict with farmers and ranchers.

"Some people like them, some people don't, but the law's the law", Yates said.

Lawmakers in Congress frustrated with court rulings maintaining protections for wolves have backed legislation to forcibly strip protections in the Great Lakes region and beyond.

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