Oregon Cattlemen’s Association President Tom Sharp participates in the gray wolf delisting ceremony in Minnesota Oct. 29.

The Trump administration is moving forward with a controversial decision to lift endangered species protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt made the announcement Thursday at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Western ranchers have long advocated taking gray wolves off the list of species protected under the Endangered Species Act. They say delisting the wolves will make it easier to manage wolves and protect their livestock.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, are already planning a lawsuit, arguing the decision is premature and will hinder wolf recovery.

Gray wolves were driven to near-extinction in the early 20th century due to hunting, trapping and government-funded extermination efforts. Certain subspecies and regional populations of wolves were originally listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, then under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

In 1978, wolves were reclassified as endangered throughout the contiguous U.S. and Mexico. At the time, the population numbered just 1,000 wolves outside Alaska and Canada. Today, there are more than 6,000 wolves across the Lower 48 states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued its latest delisting proposal in March 2019, calling wolf recovery “one of the greatest comebacks for an animal in U.S. conservation history.”

“After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery,” Bernhardt said. “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 law.”

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