Government officials in the U.S. are looking to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list. The move, proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, would allow states in the Lower 48 to lawfully hunt populations of the gray wolf.

“Recovery of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is one of our nation’s great conservation successes,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shared.

According to NPR, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is publishing the proposal in the Federal Register this month. After the rule is published, officials will entertain public comments for a short period before passing anything into law. The public comments period usually lasts a few weeks.

Related: 10 species at risk of extinction under the Trump administration

Gray wolves were labeled endangered back in 1978, when populations dwindled to only 1,000 in the United States. Since then, the numbers have risen to more than 5,000 across the country. As populations have grown, ranchers and farmers have spoken out against the federal protections, as they often consider wolves a threat to livestock.

While the numbers are a good sign, conservationists warn that the gray wolf has not fully recovered in all of the areas it used to roam. In some locations, the numbers are so small that removing the hunting ban could have disastrous effects on populations. For example, wolves may never reach recoverable levels in the southern Rockies unless the federal protections are extended.

The former head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jamie Rappaport Clark, believes that states will not treat gray wolves the same as other species once the endangered status is lifted. Clark is fighting for additional protections that will ensure the wolves will not be hunted in mass once they are off the list.

It is unclear when the law would be put in place if officials decide to move forward with their plan. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to respond to the criticism of removing the gray wolf from the endangered species list.

Via NPR

Image via Christels