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By Jennifer A Dlouhy
The Biden administration is still reviewing what to do about a Trump-era decision to strip the gray wolf of endangered species protections, even though Fish and Wildlife officials have argued the move was backed by sound science.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official described data supporting delisting call in letters to Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council, environmental groups challenging the move.
“We made our delisting determination using the best scientific and commercial data available,” Gary Frazer, the assistant director for ecological services, said in the letter. “Our delisting action recognizes the successful recovery of one of the most iconic species to our nation’s natural heritage, which currently numbers more than 6,000 wolves, greatly exceeding our recovery goals for the Northern Rocky Mountains and Western Great Lakes populations.”
A Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman said the letter was only a “routine response” acknowledging environmentalists’ notice of intent to sue. “The letter did not constitute a review of the delisting determination,” spokeswoman Vanessa Kauffman said by email.
President Joe Biden has directed the Interior Department to reconsider the Trump-era delisting decision.
When the Trump administration announced the decision last October, it called the move an Endangered Species Act success story. After more than 45 years of protection under the statute, gray wolf populations had recovered enough to warrant the shift, the Fish and Wildlife Service said at the time.
However, in January, six environmental groups filed a lawsuit in a California-based federal district court challenging the decision, saying the Fish and Wildlife Service had only evaluated the health of wolf populations in the Midwest, overlooking the species’ status in California, Washington, Maine and other states.