The Trump administration plans to eliminate endangered species protections for gray wolves across most of the country by the end of 2020, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday.
“We’re working hard to have this done by the end of the year and I’d say it’s very imminent,” Aurelia Skipwith told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
The administration is also looking to lift protections for migratory birds despite a recent setback in federal court, she said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service last year proposed dropping the wolf from the endangered list in the lower 48 states, exempting a small population of Mexican wolves in the Southwest. It was the latest of numerous attempts to return management authority to the states — moves that courts have repeatedly rejected after opponents filed lawsuits, according to the Billings Gazette.
Driven to the brink of extinction in the 20th century, wolf populations have rebounded in recent decades across the western Great Lakes region and parts of the West, with a total population currently estimated to be over 6,000. Wolves have been removed from the endangered list in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and portions of Oregon, Utah, and Washington state, while federal protections remain elsewhere.
Skipwith told the AP the wolf has “biologically recovered” and that its removal from the list would demonstrate the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act, echoing the Fish and Wildlife Service’s long-held policy.
But the Humane Society of the United States and other wildlife protection groups argue that wolves are still vulnerable. They say dropping protections across the Lower 48 would harm their population and doom their chances of spreading to other states where they could thrive if humans allowed it, the Billings Gazette reports.