The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has drafted a rule that would strip gray wolves across the country of federal protection.
The draft U.S. Department of Interior rule obtained by The Associated Press contends the roughly 6,000 wolves now living in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes are enough to prevent the species’ extinction. The agency says having gray wolves elsewhere — such as the West Coast, parts of New England and elsewhere in the Rockies—is unnecessary for their long-term survival.
A small population of Mexican wolves in the Southwest would continue to receive federal protections, as a distinct subspecies of the gray wolf.
The loss of federal protections would likely be welcomed by ranchers and others in the agriculture industry, whose stock at times become prey for hungry wolf packs. Yet wildlife advocates say the proposal threatens to cut short the gray wolf’s dramatic recovery from widespread extermination.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife and a former Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a news release that the Obama administration was “giving up” on gray wolf recovery.
“How can they declare ‘Mission Accomplished’ when gray wolves still face significant threats throughout their range?” she said. “Wolves in the Pacific Northwest have only just begun to recover, and there are no wolf populations in Utah and Colorado. We shouldn’t be closing the door on an incredible opportunity to revitalize some of America’s best remaining suitable wolf habitat by bringing back these important iconic animals.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the rule is under review and would be published in the Federal Register and opened to public comment before a final decision is made.
If the rule is enacted, it would transfer control of wolves to state wildlife agencies by removing them from the federal list of endangered species. The government has been considering such a move since at least 2011, but previously held off given concerns among scientists and wildlife advocates who warn it could effectively halt the species’ expansion.