Gray wolves will no longer be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt made the announcement on Wednesday at a meeting of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Denver.
This delist will strip gray wolves of any protections in the lower 48 states, EcoWatch reported.
“This attempt to eliminate crucial protections for gray wolves demonstrates an anti-predator bias that continues to influence wolf management decisions,” Cathy Liss, president of Animal Welfare Institute, said in a statement to EcoWatch. “The undeserved hostility toward wolves is not based on principles of sound scientific management. These apex predators play a vital role in ecosystems, contribute to a multibillion-dollar outdoor tourism industry, and are an iconic symbol of our beloved native wildlife.”
Gray wolves were first granted protection in 1975 after the animal was almost hunted to extinction. Currently, there are more than 5,000 living in their historic range, which includes the Western Great Lakes, Northern Rockies regions, Washington, Oregon and California. Now that the gray wolves’ population as increased, ranchers and hunters claim they are “a threat to livestock and game,” EcoWatch reported.
But experts say wolves are pertinent for our ecosystems by “managing grazers like elk and protecting vegetation,” the New York Times reported, therefore, they should continue to be federally protected until they have inhabited a broader historic range, which at one time was across most of the lower 48 states.
One biologist from Michigan Technological University doesn’t see the delisting of gray wolves to pose any immediate danger to the animal, but if state management of the population fails, then the wolves could face “fare worse than their current condition,” John Vucetich, said.
“We don’t have any confidence that wolves will be managed like other wildlife,” Jamie Clark from Defenders of Wildlife, said. “We’re going to fight this in any way possible.”
While the announcement was made by the Department of Interior, an official proposal still needs to be published in the Federal Register and a public comment period will follow.