The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) may remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list, it admitted this week. If the plan is to go ahead, the species would lose the federal protections it currently holds in the 48 lower states.
A spokesperson told The Associated Press (AP) on Thursday the department had kickstarted a science-based review to examine the wolf's protections under the Endangered Species Act. The proposal should be finalized by the end of the year, they say.
This is not the first time the federal government has contemplated the action but it is still a controversial one.
On one hand, it shows how successful conservation efforts have been. Considered vermin and a threat to livestock, the gray wolf was almost hunted to extinction by the mid-20th century but its addition to the endangered species list during the 1970s saw a steady rise in its numbers. There are now 3,800 or so wolves in the Western Great Lakes region and there have been sightings of the animals in states where they were thought to be locally extinct, like California.
On the other, this demotion could threaten the restoration of a vulnerable species, which is still struggling to reclaim much of its historical range. If the move goes ahead, it will remove federal laws banning the killing of gray wolves for any reason other than being a threat to human life. Instead, it would be up to each state to decide how to best protect the animal – and potentially put it at risk of less-than-friendly interest groups concerned about the wolves' threat to human and other animal life.
“It’s deeply troubling to see the Trump administration trying to prematurely kick wolves off the endangered species list,” Collette Adkins, a biologist and attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
"Time and again the courts have told the service that wolves need further recovery before their protections can be removed."
The federal government previously attempted to remove the endangered status of gray wolves back in 2013 under the Obama administration but it was overturned by a federal court decision. This shows that even if the FWS were to go ahead with the plan, a bill may not pass the courts.
The gray wolf has acquired a bit of a gnarly reputation what with its villainous status in Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf but it's not entirely deserved. Not only are they good for the environment, their threat to livestock seems to be vastly exaggerated. In fact, counterintuitively, hunting wolves may actually increase the number of attacks.
As for their threat to human life – sorry to break it to you, but the country's deadliest animals are much closer to home.