The Trump administration removed endangered species protections for the gray wolf Thursday, paving the way for hunting of the species even as environmentalists argue it has not yet recovered.
The rule from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) lifts protections for the wolves in the continental U.S., except for a small band of Mexican gray wolves present in Arizona and New Mexico.
The move ends more than 45 years of protections for the species — something that has been opposed by conservation groups and members of Congress.
“After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery. Today’s announcement simply reflects the determination that this species is neither a threatened nor endangered species based on the specific factors Congress has laid out in the law,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement.
Environmentalists have already said they will challenge the rule in court.
“This is no ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment for wolf recovery,” Kristen Boyles, an Earthjustice attorney, said in a statement.
“Wolves are only starting to get a toehold in places like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, and wolves need federal protection to explore habitat in the Southern Rockies and the Northeast. This delisting decision is what happens when bad science drives bad policy — and it’s illegal, so we will see them in court.”
The gray wolf population was around 1,000 when the species was first listed, and the FWS now says those figures are now closer to 6,000.
A peer review commissioned by the government largely opposed the delisting proposal.
“The proposed rule did not build on the assembled scientific information to provide coherent factual support or logical explanation for the agency’s conclusions,” one reviewer wrote, arguing that it led Interior “to reach an erroneous conclusion” in delisting the species.
An FWS spokesperson said Interior does not have to ensure the wolf has returned to all areas where it once was, arguing that with numbers rising, the department must focus its limited resources on other species.
Protection for the species will now be up to each state, many of which are likely to allow hunting of the wolf.
“Turning gray wolf population management back over to states and tribes will give back local control and inevitably save cattle, sheep, other livestock, and families from the threat of a grey wolf. This is a great win for the West, and I thank the Trump Administration for consistently prioritizing agribusinesses across America,” Rep. Doug LaMalfaDouglas (Doug) LaMalfaAt least 65 die in northern Algeria wildfires California's largest wildfire covering 783 square miles Wildfire leaves California town in ashes: 'We lost Greenville' MORE (R-Calif.) said in a statement.