Trump administration officials have begun the process of revoking all remaining endangered species protections for gray wolves, declaring the animals fully recovered following decades of efforts to restore the species across its former range, according to The Independent. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed on Thursday that the wolves be taken off its list of protected species, placed under the jurisdiction of each individual state. This would allow for hunting of the animals in more places than is currently permitted.
Critics of the move call it wildly premature, noting that gray wolves are still not seen across vast areas of their former range. Government officials countered by saying that the initial goal had been to restore the animals to viability, and to protect them from going completely extinct — not to restore them to cover their entire historic range.
Throughout the westward push of the 1800s and well into the 1900s, gray wolves were slaughtered haphazardly — being hunted, trapped, and poisoned to the point where they were almost completely wiped out in the lower 48 states. It has only been through strict federal protections and reintroduction to various areas over the course of the last few decades that the species has bounced back to its current level of a few thousand animals.
One critic of the plan, Jamie Rappaport Clark, who is also a former director of the Fish and Wildlife Service agency, spoke out on the matter. Clark warned that if the plan goes forward, there will be “an all-out war on wolves” across the western states, where the animals have carved out a fragile recovery.
“We don’t have any confidence that wolves will be managed like other wildlife.”
Clark was alluding to measures that have already been implemented in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming where the wolves have lost their protected status — and are already being hunted and trapped, with hundreds of wolves being killed every year. Clark suggested that by lifting all protections for the wolves, individual states will once again decimate the small population of around 6,000 wolves that currently live in the lower 48 states.
“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,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials said in a statement.
The administration’s move to lift said protections is likely to be supported by agricultural interests and western state governments. However, wildlife advocacy groups and some members of Congress have expressed outrage at the plan, and say it would be challenged in court.