Gray Wolves May Lose Protected Status

Gray wolves may soon lose their protected status if plans drafted by federal officials go through.

The draft, written by the US Department of Interior, contends that the roughly 6,000 wolves living in the Northern Rockies and the Great Lakes are enough to prevent the species from going extinct.

If the law goes through, gray wolves in the lower 48 states would lose their protected status. The agency adds that having gray wolves in other areas of the country — like the West Coast, parts of New England, and other areas of the Rockies — are not required for them to survive.

The loss of federal protections would be welcomed by ranchers and opposed by wildlife advocates. While ranchers contend that their stock suffers too much at the hands of the wolves, advocates say that the proposal could cut short the gray wolf’s recovery from widespread extermination.

While protections for gray wolves would be removed, a small population of Mexican wolves in the Southwest would keep their federal protections. The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Friday that the rule is under review. It will be published in the Federal Register and opened to public comment before a decision is made.

Gray wolves are currently listed on the endangered species list. The government has considered removing the federal protections since at least 2011. But they have held off in the past because of concerns among scientists and wildlife advocates. Both groups have warned that the removal of protections could completely halt the species’ expansion back into territories it used to roam freely.

John Vucetich, a wolf specialist and biologist at Michigan Tech University, explained that suitable habitat remains for gray wolves in large areas of the Rocky Mountains and the Northeast. But wolves only occupy 15 percent of their historical range. That amount could be greatly expanded if humans allow it to happen. Vucetich added:

“It ends up being a political question more than a biological one. It’s very unlikely the wolves will make it to places like the Dakotas and the Northeast unless the federal government provides some kind of leadership.”

Increasing numbers in the wolf population have angered many agricultural and hunting groups who are upset by the predators’ attacks on livestock and big game herds. The argument forced Western lawmakers to remove gray wolves from the endangered list in five states.

It is not yet clear whether the gray wolf will be removed from the endangered species list or not. Either way, it will be a source of contention for both sides involved.

[Image via ShutterStock]