(CN) – Gray wolves will be removed from the Endangered Species List if a new government proposal becomes official – which environmental groups say would cause the species’ numbers to plunge.
The proposal to delist gray wolves in the lower 48 states will be published in the Federal Register on Friday, which will be the first day of the 60-day review period. During that time, the proposed rule will be open for public comment and five independent scientists will review it. The service has not scheduled any public hearings.
Environmental groups say delisting wolves could reverse their progress in returning from the brink of extinction. Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, vowed to prevent the proposal from being ratified.
“This cowardly and undemocratic effort to delist wolves shows the Trump administration has already decided to approve trophy hunts,” Robinson said. “Trump and his Interior Department are dead set on appeasing special interests that want to kill wolves, but we’ll stop them.”
Nathan Jackson, president of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, called the proposal “very much a good thing.”
“It’s a great move for the environment and for producers in this state to agree that the gray wolf is sufficiently recovered that it doesn’t require that kind of protection anymore,” he said in an interview.
According to Jackson, the problem with federal protection is that it takes management decisions away from state and local authorities and de-emphasizes ranchers’ concerns.
“Obviously I’m concerned anytime there is a large, very intelligent predator that wants to eat the livestock I produce,” Jackson said. “It’s always a concern when something wants to eat your livelihood.”
Gray wolves once roamed from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and from Canada to Mexico – everywhere in the U.S. except the southeast, the territory of the highly endangered red wolves. By the 1930s, they were nearly extinct in the lower 48 states, mostly from government campaigns targeting predators.
In 1974, the Endangered Species Act gave protection to gray wolves. They were reintroduced in Yellowstone and other areas of the Rocky Mountains and their numbers started to recover, but only in the northern Midwest and western part of the country. In 2003, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reclassified gray wolves as threatened – a designation that provides fewer protections. Congress delisted the species in Idaho and Montana in 2011. In April 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia lifted federal protections for gray wolves in Wyoming.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates about 6,000 wolves living in the continental United States and between 8,000 and 11,000 in Alaska. But in states where wolves are already delisted, their numbers have started to drop again. In 2015, the most recent year for which the service provided wolf population data, humans caused the deaths of 682 gray wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming alone – a number that represents 28 percent of the total wolf population in the three states. The government says that is still “well above” the minimum requirement of a combined total of 450 gray wolves in the three states.
The service will continue monitoring wolves for five years and can place wolves back on the list of endangered species if their numbers decline to “perilous levels” or if states fail to properly safeguard them.