But wolves remain absent across most of their historical range and the groups that filed Thursday's lawsuits said continued protections are needed so wolf populations can continue to expand in California and other states.
The lawsuits could complicate an effort to reintroduce wolves in sparsely populated western Colorado under a November initiative approved by voters, a state official told wildlife commissioners Thursday. If endangered species protections were restored, wolves would again fall under authority of the federal government, not the state.
In response to the lawsuits, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Vanessa Kauffman said in a statement that the gray wolf “has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery” and is no longer threatened or endangered under federal law.
Some biologists who reviewed the administration’s plan to strip protections from wolves said it lacked scientific justification.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuits include the Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, Humane Society of the U.S. and numerous other environmental and advocacy groups.
A small population of Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest remain protected as an endangered species. Wolves in Alaska were never under federal protection.