The U.S. Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday approved an amendment to a bill that orders wolves to be removed from federal Endangered Species Act protections in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming.
The amendment, which also would prohibit courts from intervening on wolf status in those states, was added to the the so-called "Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act of 2016."
Wolves in those states were ordered back under federal protections - and off-limits to hunting and trapping - under 2014 court rulings, angering many rural lawmakers who say wolf numbers need to be trimmed.
The wolf amendment, which recently had been stricken from the federal budget compromise, was proposed by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
Critics say the bill puts wolf management back into the hands of state wildlife agencies that are bent on killing too many wolves too soon after the animal faced extinction as recently as the 1970s.
"This amendment has the potential to destroy the Endangered Species Act and puts the wolf on the path to extinction once again," said Maureen Hackett, founder and president of the group Howling For Wolves. "If our Minnesota wolves do not have federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, we most likely would have another state-sponsored wolf trophy hunt."
The bill, S-659, cleared the committee Wednesday but still must clear the full Senate. The House has passed a similar bill. Any final, compromise bill would have to be signed by the president before the changes in wolf status would occur.
A separate provision of the Sportsmen's Act would permanently exempt lead fishing tackle from any federal regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Many conservationists say the lead can kill birds, such as loons, that ingest small lead tackle such as sinkers. The fishing industry opposes banning lead tackle.
Another bill, S-1024, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2015, also cleared the committee. The bill funds projects to restore habitat, remove pollution and battle invasive species on the Great Lakes.