The Trump administration is proposing to strip federal protections for gray wolves, which would end nearly a half-century of endangered species protection for the animal.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement Wednesday that the gray wolf population has recovered significantly in the lower 48 states, leading to the decision to delist.
“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,” an agency spokesman said in a statement.
The wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s.
The announcement was made Wednesday by acting Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in a speech to the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Denver, according to The New York Times. It has not been officially recorded in the Federal Register.
Environmentalists are already criticizing the proposal, arguing that wolf populations remain too low to be considered recovered.
“Given that gray wolves in the lower 48 states occupy such a small percentage of their historical habitat, it is almost laughable for the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine that they are successfully recovered,” said John Mellgren, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center in a statement. “On its face, this appears to be politically motivated. We look forward to reviewing the draft delisting rule, and look forward to taking the Fish and Wildlife Service to court should its proposal not be based on what the science tells us.”
According to The Times, the number of wolves fell to about 1,000 when they were added to the Endangered Species List in 1975. They have since risen to about 5,000 in the lower 48, the paper reported.
The Obama administration had also proposed delisting gray wolves in 2013 but were blocked in federal court.