Thu. 11:11 a.m.: US moves to lift remaining gray wolf protections

In this Dec. 4, 2014, photo released by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, a wolf from the Snake River Pack passes by a remote camera in eastern Wallowa County, Ore. A proposal to strip gray wolves of their remaining federal protections could clip the predators' rapid expansion across vast swaths of the U.S. West and Great Lakes. (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife via AP)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Gray wolves in the U.S. would be stripped of federal protection and subject to hunting and trapping in more states under a proposal released this morning that declares the predators recovered following a decades-long restoration effort.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to revoke the wolves’ endangered and threatened species status and put them under authority of state wildlife agencies across the Lower 48 states. The Associated Press reported last week that the proposal was in the works.

Wildlife advocates and some members of Congress said the move is premature because wolves occupy only a fraction of a historical range that once stretched across most of North America.

But Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said it was “indisputable” that wolves had recovered enough to meet recovery goals. He said the agency could now devote more work to species in greater need.

Livestock interests, hunters and officials in some states have wanted the government to make it easier to kill wolves. The predators periodically prey on livestock such as cows and sheep and have been blamed for declining numbers of elk, moose and other big game in some areas.

“We need to take control of these wolves,” said Tony Demboski with the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance in Michigan, where there are an estimated 660 of the animals. “They’re cleaning up our deer herd, we’ve got people scared to go for a walk in the evenings. We’ve just got too many wolves.”

Those who want more wolves in more places say such fears are overblown. Wolves very rarely attack people, and far more livestock are killed by other causes, including coyotes and disease.

“It doesn’t have to be either or — we have livestock or we have wolves,” said Kate Dylewsky with the Animal Welfare Institute. “Co-existence with wolves is very possible.”

Trapping, poisoning and hunting campaigns early last century exterminated wolves across most of the Lower 48 states by the 1930s. More than 6,000 of the animals now live in portions of nine states, officials say.

A final decision on lifting protections will follow a public comment period that begins Friday and runs through May 14.

Government officials said their goal was to protect wolves from extinction, not return them to everywhere they were once found.

The Endangered Species Act is not “a means to keep species from being hunted in perpetuity once they’ve met the threshold of recovery,” said Gavin Shire, spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Environmentalists and animal advocacy groups have pledged to challenge in court any action to ease or eliminate protections.

COMMENTS