Conservation Group Calls Trump Admin Decision to Revoke Gray Wolves' Endangered Species Protections 'Short-Sighted and Dangerous'

Several conservation groups criticized a decision by President Donald Trump's administration on Thursday to remove federal protections for the gray wolf provided by the Endangered Species Act.

The gray wolf has benefited from the federal protections for more than 45 years and has had a "successful recovery" in the U.S., according to a news release from the U.S. Department of the Interior. More than 6,000 gray wolves now live in the contiguous U.S., a number that the department said is attributable to the years that the species spent on the federal endangered species list.

State and tribal governments will be responsible for managing the species' protections starting on January 4, 2021, when the new classification goes into effect. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also keep track of the species' numbers over the next five years "to ensure the continued success of the species," federal officials said.

The U.S. Department of the Interior's news release featured comments from several state leaders and federal legislators, including South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and Utah Senator Mike Lee. Many of the supporters included in the release said that lifting protections for species whose populations have rebounded since joining the list should be viewed as success for the Endangered Species Act.

Gray Wolf
A single gray wolf is photographed in winter snow. On Thursday, the federal government announced that it was removing federal protections established under the Endangered Species Act for gray wolves in the lower 48 U.S. states, a decision that was quickly rebuffed by conservation groups. T. Ulrich/Classicstock/Getty

But the federal government's decision to classify gray wolves as experiencing a "successful recovery" came under fire on Thursday as several conservation groups issued statements in protest of the decision.

"Removing protections for gray wolves amid a global extinction crisis is short-sighted and dangerous to America's conservation legacy," the National Parks Conservation Association Wildlife Program Director Bart Melton said in a news release. Melton pointed to national parks in western states that have seen the return of gray wolves in recent years as examples of how the federal protections have aided the species.

"Rather than working alongside communities to support the return of wolves in these historic and prime habitat ranges, the administration essentially today said, 'good enough' and removed Endangered Species Act protections," he said.

In a statement posted on the Defenders of Wildlife website, the nonprofit's president and CEO, Jamie Rappaport Clark, called the decision "premature and reckless."

"Gray wolves occupy only a fraction of their former range and need continued federal protection to fully recover. We will be taking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to court to defend this iconic species," Clark's statement said.

Lindsay Larris, the wildlife program director of the nonprofit environmental organization WildEarth Guardians, said in a news release that the decision was "yet another example of the Trump administration ignoring science."

In a statement shared with Newsweek, Larris said the federal government's statement that the species had successfully recovered is "unsupported by scientific evidence."

"Under the Endangered Species Act, a species can be considered recovered when there's no longer a danger of extinction throughout all of a significant portion of its range," Larris said. "Wolves currently only inhabitat between 10 and 20% of their historic range. The fact that wolves still don't even inhabit a significant portion of their range begs the question of how can anyone reasonably say that the U.S. is remotely close to 'successful' recovery of this iconic species."

Larris added that an earlier move in 2011 to take gray wolves off the endangered species list in the Northern Rocky Mountains region resulted in mismanagement by the local authorities meant to take over the species' protections.

"These wolves face a very real threat of extinction across their historic range, showing that today's decision was a desperate political move to appease a small subset of the population, and not based on science," Larris said.

Newsweek reached out to the U.S. Department of the Interior for further comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.