The Trump administration is seeking to lift Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf, arguing the predators found mainly in the western United States have been brought back successfully from the brink of extinction.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon propose a rule to delist the gray wolf in the lower 48 states,” the agency said in an emailed statement on Wednesday. “Recovery of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act is one of our nation’s great conservation successes.”
The Center for Biological Diversity called the proposal “a death sentence for gray wolves across the country,” because it would open the animals to public hunting.
The public will have an opportunity to comment on the proposal once it is published in the Federal Register.
Wolves were hunted, trapped and poisoned to near extinction in the lower 48 states before being added to the endangered species list in the 1970s. Today there are estimated to be more than 5,600 gray wolves in the contiguous United States, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, far exceeding its population targets.
Sportsmen and ranchers, who make up a powerful constituency in Western states, have argued that larger numbers of wolves diminish herds of big-game animals like elk and prey on livestock.
Efforts to delist the gray wolf began under the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama. Federal protections were lifted for gray wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming in recent years, though a move to delist the species in the Great Lakes region was halted by a court order in 2014.
Reporting by Nichola Groom in Los Angeles, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien