Trump Administration Considers Ending Protections For Endangered Gray Wolves

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, a part of the Department of the Interior, is examining the status of gray wolves and considering ending their endangered species protection in some areas of the U.S.

"Working closely with our federal, state, tribal and local partners, we will assess the currently listed gray wolf entities in the lower 48 states using the best available scientific information," the FWS told Newsweek in a statement Thursday. "If appropriate, the Service will publish a proposal to revise the wolf's status in the Federal Register by the end of the calendar year. Any proposal will follow a robust, transparent and open public process that will provide opportunity for public comment."

The decision was first reported by the Associated Press.

The federal government considered ending endangered species status for the wolf in 2013 under President Barack Obama. That effort was turned back by a federal court decision, which upheld protections for a subspecies of the wolf in the Great Lakes area. The gray wolf is considered endangered in most states, but a population segment in the Rocky Mountain area including Montana, Idaho Wyoming and parts of Washington was delisted. The wolves are also not covered in Alaska.

A pair of gray wolves is shown in the Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, wolf refuge. REUTERS

"With the gray wolf's recovery goals exceeded, the Service proposed delisting the species throughout the remainder of its range in 2013 under the previous administration," the FWS said. "Unfortunately, the delisting of wolves in the Western Great Lakes region was successfully overturned by the courts, which prevented the Service from moving forward with the full delisting proposal at that time."

The service estimates there around 3,700 wolves in the Western Great Lakes region, which includes Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 enacted conservation protections for animal populations threatened due to things like habitat loss or disease. The protection made it illegal to kill the animals and also forced the U.S. government to ensure its activities do not threaten the animal's critical habitat.

"Federal protections for wolves are essential to help the species recover and expand into still-suitable parts of its former range. The gray wolf has barely begun to recover or is absent from significant portions of its former range where substantial suitable habitat remains," Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center in New York, said in a statement to Newsweek.

Howell pointed out that the gray wolf has begun to move back into areas it had not been for long periods including parts of California.

"By stripping federal protections from wolves nationwide, these pioneers on the West Coast and in historically occupied areas like the southern Rockies and Northeast, may never be able to establish a viable population despite suitable habitat and availability of prey," said Howell.

Wolf protections have long been a contentious issue is some parts of the U.S. with ranchers and farmers believing that wolves attack livestock. Some studies, however, have shown that fear to be unfounded.