The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing the eastern cougar from the endangered species list on Wednesday, the AP reports. The species has likely been extinct for 70 years.
European settlers wiped out eastern cougars in the 19th century to protect themselves and livestock. The big cat was put on the endangered species list in 1973 but hasn’t been seen since the 1930s. Recent cougar sightings are considered to be western cougars migrating east.
“This is a somber moment to think about what the land under our feet used to be like and what roamed here,” Michael Robinson, of the Center for Biological Diversity, told the AP. “It should be a clarion call to recover pumas and all of our apex predators to sustainable levels to help rebalance a world that is out of kilter.”
All American cougars are genetically similar, and there is debate over whether the eastern variety constitutes a subspecies, but U.S. Fish and Wildlife is proceeding as if they are. The decision to remove them from the endangered species list will be open to public comment for 60 days before it is finalized.