SALT LAKE CITY — Gray wolves will no longer be listed as endangered species for the first time in over 45 years, which is a situation Utah wildlife officials have prepared themselves for over a decade.
After years of speculation, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt made the official announcement Thursday while at a wildlife refuge in Minnesota. The move transfers management plans for the species from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to individual states and tribal leaders. The decision was approved by President Donald Trump.
"After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery," Bernhardt said in a statement. "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 the law."
The ruling applies to the lower 48 states and excludes Mexican wolves in the southwest U.S. It goes into effect 60 days after it's published in the Federal Register Thursday, according to the U.S. Department of Interior.
Utah wildlife officials recently extended a management plan for gray wolves through 2030 that was originally passed in 2005. That plan was created to go into effect immediately after the moment the wolves were no longer federally protected. The 81-page document is similar to other plans the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has in place for other species that the division handles like bears, moose and deer.
As noted by division, the goal of the plan is to "study and conserve wolves that move into Utah, while also: avoiding conflicts with the wildlife management objectives of the Ute Indian Tribe, preventing livestock depredation (and) protecting the investment made in wildlife in Utah."
Officials at the division and the Utah Department of Resources applauded the federal move Thursday. Wolves were already reintroduced at Yellowstone National Park and Colorado residents are asked to vote on a proposition during next week's election that would allow Colorado Parks and Wildlife to reintroduce the species in the state.
Utah officials insisted reintroduction in neighboring states would speed up the need to be prepared for wolves that wander into Utah. It's something that's already happened earlier this year after a wolf was blamed for the death of a livestock animal in northern Utah.
"If wolves enter Utah from Colorado, DWR must have the ability to manage them or there could be significant conflicts with agriculture and wildlife populations," said Brian Steed, executive director of the Utah Department on Natural Resources, in a prepared statement Thursday.
"Moreover, we are also concerned about the potential impacts of Colorado's proposed introduction of gray wolves on the genetic integrity of the endangered Mexican wolf population in New Mexico and Arizona, and the ESA status of any intergrade wolves (hybrids of subspecies)," his statement continued, in part.
Utah Department of Agriculture and Food Commissioner Logan Wilde also supported the decision. In a statement, he said he was "very appreciative" of the Trump administration's "timely transfers" of wolf management to state officials.
Not everyone was on board with Thursday's announcement. Some wildlife groups opposed it.
Sylvia Fallon, senior director for the Natural Resources Defense Council's wildlife division, for example, said in a statement that it threatened wolf recovery in the U.S.
"You cannot have a national wolf recovery without putting forward a national wolf recovery plan," her statement read. "This still has not happened, so eliminating federal protections for gray wolves is a huge setback in recovery efforts. Wolves are still missing from much of their remaining habitat in the West and throughout the Northeast."