Donald Trump’s administration has stripped Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in most of the US, leaving them vulnerable to hunting.
The US Department of Interior announced the news just days ahead of the upcoming November 3 election, ending federal protections which have been in place for 45 years.
Gray wolves were once persecuted to near-extinction in the country, but US interior secretary David Bernhardt said the protection is no longer needed.
Bernhardt insisted that the species had ‘exceeded all conservation goals for recovery’, and said the announcement ‘simply reflects the determination that this species is neither a threatened nor endangered species based on the specific factors Congress has laid out in the law.’
Speaking at a national wildlife refuge overlooking the Minnesota River on Thursday, October 29, Bernhardt declared the gray wolf’s recovery ‘a milestone of success.’
In the early part of the 20th century the gray wolf had essentially become a ghost throughout the United States. That is not the case today.
Gray wolf numbers dropped to around 1,000 in the 1970s, but after being listed under the Endangered Species Act numbers recovered to around 6,000.
The animals remain absent from much of their historical range, but federal wildlife officials cited by NBC News argue that healthy populations in the western Great Lakes region, Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest guarantee the species’ long-term survival.
The removal of federal protections means states and local tribes will now be in charge of overseeing the wolves, some of which will allow the killing of the animals. Some ranch owners see the wolves as a threat to their livestock, while hunters can consider them as competition for deer and elk.
Dan Ashe, former director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said wolves were recovered and the agency could turn its attention to other wildlife, though he questioned the announcement coming so close to the election. The removal of wolves’ protections is the latest in a number of decisions about the environment that are said to appeal to key rural voters.
Conservationists have slammed the decision, with some arguing it will make it harder for wolves to recover in more regions.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife and another former director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, described the move as ‘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 US Fish and Wildlife Service to court to defend this iconic species.
More than 100 biologists have signed a letter to the Trump administration in opposition of the delisting, arguing that any perceived threats to livestock or humans are easily manageable.
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