The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the removal of Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across the lower 48 states on Thursday.
The agency characterized the decision as a celebratory move acknowledging the comeback that wolves in the wild have made over the past few decades.
“After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery,” Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said in a statement. “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.”
But numerous conservation, environmental and animal welfare groups blasted the decision as a harmful one that will be devastating to still-precarious wolf populations.
“This is no ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment for wolf recovery,” Kristen Boyles, an attorney for the nonprofit Earthjustice, said in a statement sent to HuffPost. “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.”
Other organizations promising to challenge the decision in court include Defenders of Wildlife, the Western Environmental Law Center and the Center for Biological Diversity.