Federal authorities are preparing legislation to remove endangered species protections for gray wolves in the Lower 48 states.
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service draft legislation obtained by The Los Angeles Times, control of wolves would be transferred to state wildlife agencies.
Responding to the news, scientists and conservation groups said that the rule "reeks of politics," as ranching and agricultural industries have lobbied heavily for the delistment of the species.
"This is politics versus professional wildlife management," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "The service is saying, 'We're done. Game over. Whatever happens to wolves in the U.S. is a state thing.' They are declaring victory long before science would tell them to do so."
"There's a race to the bottom to see who can be more anti-wolf," added Don Barry, vice president at Defenders of Wildlife and former Interior Department assistant secretary. "They're basically giving up on wolf recovery before the job is done."
The law carves out an exception for a small population of Mexican wolves in the Southwest which, as a distinct subspecies of the gray wolf, would continue to receive federal protections.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday the rule was under review and would be published in the Federal Register and opened to public comment before a final decision is made.