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Biden signals plans to uphold Trump administration’s decision to end gray wolf protections

Biden officials say Trump’s call to end wolf protections was a move already years in the making and was the right decision, but say the feds are keeping an eye on a recent surge of pro-wolf killing and trapping laws in some states.

(CN) — The Biden administration is reportedly not walking back the removal of federal protections for gray wolf populations, one of the last major environmental actions of the Trump administration.

After nearly a year of calls to reinstate federal protections for gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act — including a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife by conservationists aimed at restoring the safeguards — officials say the Biden administration is standing by the decision made by his White House predecessor.

According to statements obtained by the Associated Press, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Director for Ecological Services Gary Frazer says the decision to remove protections for wolves was already in the pipeline for several years and was the right call to make.

But Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity — one of the organizations vying for a reinstatement of federal wolf protections — says this decision will only result in more wolves being hunted down in states that have made it far easier to target the famed predators.

“It’s shocking that Biden officials are backing Trump’s ruthless decision to strip protections from wolves,” Weiss said in a statement. “This move means more of our nation’s wolves will be slaughtered in states where politics have trumped science. Biden can’t say his administration supports science-based decisions and then let Wisconsin, Montana and Idaho turn into a bloodbath for wolves.”

While the decision to halt the protections came in the final months of the Trump presidency, the saga over wolf killing regulations has been ongoing for decades ever since rampant wolf killing in the early 20th century sent wolf population numbers plummeting. Gray wolves have largely resurged in many parts in the country ever since federal protections kicked in, with particular success reported around the northwest Rocky Mountains and some of the western Great Lakes regions.

Some states, however, maintain that this recovery was perhaps too successful and have made a series of pushes to ease restrictions on the killing of wolves.

Montana, for instance, passed a law earlier this year that expanded the trapping and killing capabilities for wolf hunters, while Idaho recently allowed the killing of up to 90% of the state’s wolf population and even gave hunters the right to peruse the animals after hours with the help of night-vision googles and ATVs.

Proponents of these measures say there is no reason why party politics needs to be a factor in this debate, claiming that moves to give more authority to states in how they manage their wolf populations has been supported by members of both political parties for years.

“The science drives the decision, which hasn’t changed just because the president changes,” Jeremy Evan Clare with Safari Club International said in a statement.

While the Biden administration appears content to keep federal protections lifted for the time being, Assistant Director Frazer says officials will be keeping an eye on the situation in the states to determine if the federal government may need to step in at some point in the future.

“Certainly some of the things we’re seeing are concerning,” Frazer said, adding that “We’re aware that circumstances have changed and we’ll be watching closely to see how the population responds.”

It is possible we may get an indication on how concerned the feds may be about state wolf killing laws as early as the next several weeks, as officials prepare their legal responses to environmental petitions filed earlier this year to bring back wolf protections.

Officials for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife did not immediately respond to request for comment Friday.

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