Trump administration seeks to lift 'endangered' status on wolves by end of year

Trump administration seeks to lift 'endangered' status on wolves by end of year
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The Trump administration is seeking to end endangered species protections for gray wolves throughout the nation by the end of the year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We're working hard to have this done by the end of the year and I'd say it's very imminent," Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday.

The agency proposed last year that the endangered status on wolves in the lower 48 states be lifted with the exception of a small population of the Mexican wolf in the southwest.

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Wolves were hunted to near extinction in the past century. However, research shows populations have rebounded in the western Great Lakes region and areas of the west, with a total population of more than 6,000 now.

Skipworth told the AP the wolf population has "biologically recovered." She added that removing gray wolves from the list would demonstrate the Endangered Species Act's effectiveness, which provides for more flexible criteria for delisting animal species.

Montana, Idaho and Wyoming as well as areas of Oregon, Utah and Washington have opted to remove the wolves from endangered species protections.

Still, federal protections remain in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin following a federal judge's move in 2014 to restore protections for the animals, which was upheld by an appeals court in 2017.

Wildlife protection groups such as the Humane Society of the United States are concerned ending the protections would negate wolf population's ability to spread to other states where they could thrive if humans allowed it.

Skipworth said the agency is taking an extended review of the data behind its position after issues were raised in the appeals court rulings.

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"We just want to be sure we're covering all the bases," she said. "When groups want to come in and sue because of such a success, it takes away resources from species that need them."

This year, Colorado residents will vote on a November ballot initiative on whether to restore wolf populations in the state.

The agency is also working to roll back protections for migratory birds, although there have been setbacks in federal court by certain wildlife protection groups.