The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first proposed removing the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from the list of threatened and endangered species in June of this year.
If the de-listing occurs under rules as currently written, some researchers warn, it would set a dangerous precedent in the way the Fish and Wildlife Service determines the listing or de-listing of endangered species.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to detail what the threats are and if they're substantial enough, they're supposed to list a species and put in place policies to mitigate the threats," said Jeremy Bruskotter of Ohio State University's School of Environment and Natural Resources.
Instead, under the propose de-listing, the Fish and Wildlife Service could simply decide land currently unoccupied by wolves -- most of the country that historically served as wolf habitat -- is now unsuitable because humans living in those regions won't tolerate the animals.
Under current policies, for a species to be considered recovered, the Fish and Wildlife Service must declare it no longer endangered in all or a "significant portion of its range." While the gray wolf has recovered in the northern Rockies and upper Great Lakes, the predator has not returned to the other 85 percent of its historic range spanning across the United States, said Bruskotter, lead author of a critique published in the journal Conservation Letters.
"So what the service is saying is that wolves are going to be called recovered in most of the United States despite the fact that very few wolves live outside these two recovered areas."
The proposed rule "specifically creates incentive to destroy habitat in advance of a listing and do things that aren't good for endangered species," Bruskotter said.
"The law is supposed to help the protected species, not just describe the threats to that species. But to construct this de-listing rule, they've had to interpret policy and science in every case in a way that either disregards threats to wolves, or treats them as insurmountable," he said. "They're doing the opposite of what the act requires."