Federal wildlife officials have drafted plans to lift protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states, a move that could end a decades-long recovery effort that has restored the animals, but only in parts of their historic range. The draft rule by the Department of Interior contends that the roughly 6,000 wolves now living in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes are enough to prevent the species' extinction. The agency says having gray wolves elsewhere—such as the West Coast, parts of New England, and elsewhere in the Rockies—is unnecessary for their long-term survival.
The loss of federal protections would be welcomed by ranchers and others in the agriculture industry, whose stock at times become prey for hungry wolf packs. Yet wildlife advocates say the proposal threatens to cut short the gray wolf's dramatic recovery from widespread extermination. The Fish and Wildlife Service said the rule was under review and would be published in the Federal Register and opened to public comment before a final decision is made. It would transfer control of wolves to state wildlife agencies by removing them from the federal list of endangered species. The government has been considering such a move since at least 2011.