WASHINGTON, June 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday it intends to drop almost all federal protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 states.
The sole exception will apply to a struggling population of Mexican wolves in New Mexico and Arizona considered a distinct subspecies, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Wolf packs are well established in the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies, and there are significant populations in Oregon, Washington and Northern California, officials said.
The USFWS announcement suggests federal scientists have determined wolves in the lower 48 states don't require the protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act, as they are no longer threatened with extinction.
Individual states will take over management of animals within their borders, officials said. Some states have already allowed hunting of gray wolves.
The delisting proposal will be subject to a 90-day public comment period and could be finalized within a year, officials said.