Federal authorities intend to remove endangered species protections for all gray wolves in the Lower 48 states, carving out an exception for a small pocket of about 75 Mexican wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico, according to a draft document obtained by The Los Angeles Times.
The sweeping rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would eliminate protection for wolves 18 years after the government reestablished the predators in the West. Their reintroduction was a success, with the population growing to the thousands.
Once those protections end, the wolves will be managed by the individual states. The species has flourished allowing the government to end endangered status for the gray wolf in the northern Rockies and Great Lakes regions last year.
Mike Jimenez, manager of wolves in the northern Rockies for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said delisting in that region underscored a "huge success story." He said that while wolves are now legally hunted in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, the federal agency continues to monitor pack populations and can reinstate protections should numbers reach levels that biologists consider to be dangerously low.
Some scientists and conservationists who reviewed the plan said its reasoning is flawed. They challenged how the agency reconfigures the classification of wolf subspecies and its assertion that little habitat remains for wolves.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to release its decision to delist the wolves in coming weeks and it could become final within a year.