The Biden administration is reviewing whether to put American gray wolves back on the endangered species list after originally sticking with a Trump-era policy which led to hundreds of the species being killed in the last year.
Last November former President Trump removed gray wolves’ protections under the Endangered Species Act after population numbers rebounded following decades of conservation work.
Environmental groups, EarthJustice and the Center for Biological Diversity, sued the government to have the wolf protections reinstated.
The Biden administration declined to reverse course on the Trump decision last month.
Since federal wolf protections were dropped, Wisconsin hunters have killed 218 wolves, or a third of the population, in the state.
In Idaho, a bill was introduced at state level allowing for up to 90 per cent of the 1,500-strong wolf population to be killed in order to protect livestock.
US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) received several petitions over the summer calling for the wolves to be relisted as an endangered species.
“Collectively, we represent millions of Americans who seek to see gray wolves fully recovered and protected across the western United States, and who believe that current management of the species is insufficient to prevent a second wild extinction,” one petition said.
On Wednesday, FWS said that the petitions “present substantial, credible information indicating that a listing action may be warranted".
FWS also said that Idaho and Montana’s loose regulatory measures threaten the gray wolf population.
With no federal protections in place, states have taken to modifying hunting policies. For example, Idaho lets hunters shoot wolves from parachutes ATVs or snowmobiles.
Montana now allows for hunters to snare and bait wolves.
Despite the expanded hunting methods, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte said the state is ensuring that the gray wolf population will not reach low levels.
“We don’t need Washington coming in and second-guessing our science-based approach,” Gov. Gianforte said in a statement.
Some evidence says that the rate of hunting will outpace the population’s ability to breed future generations.
“While Idaho and Montana are required to maintain at least 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves according to their state management plans, the USFWS should hold states to a higher standard than intentionally reducing a species’ population levels to an arbitrary bare minimum that could lead to total collapse,” Amy McNamara, director of the Northern Rockies at Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a blog post.
Environmentalists said that they were hopeful that the federal government would reverse the position on protecting wolves.
“I’m hopeful that wolves will eventually get the protection they deserve, but the Fish and Wildlife Service should have stopped the wolf-killing now,” Andrea Zaccardi, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
However Ms. Zaccardi noted that while the Biden administration is reviewing wolves endangered status, it is not addressing the more aggressive hunting policies in some states.
The FWS review is expected to last a year. Wildlife advocates fear that hundreds of more wolves will be killed in that time.