The Trump administration plans to remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the Lower 48 states, the latest in a yearslong drama that has sparked federal lawsuits and much debate.
The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to soon publish a proposed rule removing ESA protections for gray wolves, acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced today at the 84th North American Wildlife & Natural Resources Conference in downtown Denver.
The rule will be published in the Federal Register and made available for public comment, Fish and Wildlife confirmed to E&E News. An Interior spokeswoman said this will be done "in the next few days."
Under the proposed rule, management for the gray wolves would be returned to the individual states, according to a statement from FWS. The new rule would not apply to the Mexican wolf, a subspecies that is separately protected as endangered, or to the red wolf, a separate species.
Bernhardt's announcement follows Fish and Wildlife's decision last summer to re-evaluate the status of the gray wolf and make a determination about whether the species has recovered enough to remove it as an endangered species (Greenwire, June 15, 2018).
"Recovery of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act is one of our nation's great conservation successes, with the wolf joining other cherished species, such as the bald eagle, that have been brought back from the brink with the help of the ESA," the FWS statement said.
But any proposed rule removing federal protections for gray wolves is certain to face legal challenges from environmental groups that blasted Bernhardt's announcement.
"This disgusting proposal would be a death sentence for gray wolves across the country," said Collette Adkins, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. "The Trump administration is dead set on appeasing special interests that want to kill wolves. We're working hard to stop them."
Indeed, the Center for Biological Diversity last year filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia demanding that FWS not only preserve federal protections for gray wolves, but also develop a national recovery plan for the species (Greenwire, Nov. 14, 2018).
WildEarth Guardians said in a statement today that gray wolves have started to recover, but only occupy roughly 5 percent of their historic range.
Taylor Jones, WildEarth Guardians' endangered species advocate, accused the Trump administration of giving in "to powerful hunting and livestock interests" that want federal restrictions lifted.
"Wolves should remain listed until they are fully recovered and can take their place as key parts of a healthy ecosystem," Jones said.
The proposed delisting announcement comes three months after the Center for Biological Diversity and the Humane Society of the United States petitioned FWS to keep federal protections for gray wolves and develop a national recovery plan (E&E News PM, Dec. 17, 2018).
The battle over federal protections for gray wolves has been ongoing for years.
During the Obama administration, in 2011, Fish and Wildlife removed protections for gray wolves in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.
A federal court reversed that move in 2014, and an appeals court upheld the lower court's ruling in 2017 (Greenwire, Aug. 1, 2017).
FWS also removed ESA protections for gray wolves in Wyoming, but that decision was upheld in 2017 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Greenwire, March 3, 2017).
Reporter Michael Doyle contributed.