The deadline to comment on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to remove all gray wolves from protection under the federal Endangered Species Act is May 14, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is rallying the troops.

Once a species is on the list, it’s extremely hard to get it off, and cattlemen need to make sure the agency knows they support delisting, Colin Woodall, NCBA senior vice president of government affairs said.

“We’ve been working about 20 years on this,” he said.

As a listed species, gray wolves can’t be managed. That means ranchers “have to sit back and watch their animals be eaten and killed by these animals,” he said.

In announcing its proposal to delist the species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called the gray wolf recovery “one of the greatest comebacks for an animal in U.S. conservation history.”

On the brink of extinction in the Lower 48 states, the species was listed as protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1974. Today, the population stands at more than 6,000 — and growing — across the northern portions of three states in the Great Lakes area and all or portions of five states in the northern Rocky Mountains.

Gray wolves have already been delisted in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana and parts of Oregon and Washington, with management now in the hands of the states.

The gray wolf has exceeded recovery goals by more than 300%, and USFWS proposed removing their endangered status in 2013. That proposal was opposed by environmental groups, which took the rule to federal court, according to NCBA.

The species is far beyond recovery and is past due for removal from the Endangered Species list, Ethan Lane, executive director of Public Lands Council and senior executive director of NCBA federal lands, said in a Beltway Beef podcast.

It is critically important that real stakeholders, such as ranchers who are experiencing predation and pressure, get their voices on the record and make it clear this is the right move, the science-appropriate move, he said.

In the first week or so of the comment period, tens of thousands of activists commented in opposition of delisting. But a lot of that is from comment without context generated by environmental groups. The agencies lend far more weight to “real” comments from “real” stakeholders, he said.

“So every voice we get on the record that is authentic is a vote in the right direction,” he said.

It’s not an actual vote, but it creates context for the agency and a nuanced view from folks who have to live with wolves, he said.

“It provides some support for what they’re doing and gives them some guideposts as they move through the process,” he said.

The species is recovered and numbers are rebounding, and that’s exactly how the Endangered Species Act is supposed to work. But that won’t end the opposition to delisting, he said.

“The proponents of the Endangered Species Act in its current form always forget about that recovery piece because for a lot of them it is really about perpetual listing. That is the goal for them … to put these species in that protected environment,” he said.

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