BILLINGS — Federal lawmakers pressed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Wednesday to drop the administration’s plan to end federal protections for gray wolves across most of the Lower 48 states.
Seventy-four House members signed onto a Wednesday letter to Jewell that cited a peer-review panel’s recent conclusion the government relied on unsettled science to make its case that the wolves have sufficiently recovered.
Gray wolves were added to the endangered-species list in 1975 after being widely exterminated in the last century. Protections already have been lifted for rebounding populations of the predators in the northern Rockies and Great Lakes regions.
Hunting in those regions now kills hundreds of gray wolves annually, though state officials insist the species’ population remains healthy.
But lawmakers led by Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, contend protections elsewhere should remain. That’s in part because gray wolves have not yet repopulated areas where researchers identified suitable habitat for the animals in California, Utah, Colorado and the Northeast.
The lawmakers wrote that taking the animals off the endangered species list and putting them under state management would “stifle gray wolf recovery” and undermine decades of restoration efforts.
Among those signing the letter were two House Republicans — Chris Smith of New Jersey and Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.
A panel of independent scientists last month rejected the government’s claim that the Northeast and Midwest were home to a separate species, the eastern wolf. The government claim would make it unnecessary to restore gray wolves in those areas, but the peer-review panel said there was too little science to support such a view.
In their letter to Jewell, the lawmakers criticized Interior for resurrecting a dormant government journal to publish a study from its own employees that justified the findings about the eastern wolf.
A public-comment period on Interior’s proposal ends March 27.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Chris Tollefson said a decision on how to proceed will be made after federal officials review the comments and the peer-review panel’s report. The agency has said it expects to make a final decision by the end of the year.
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