May 5, 2011

Some US Gray Wolves Removed From Endangered List

The U.S. Department of the Interior on Wednesday said it is formally removing the gray wolf of the Rocky Mountain region from the endangered species list, after a Congressional order was made last month.

It also plans to seek for removal of thousands of more wolves in the western Great Lakes region from the endangered species list as well, because they have returned to "healthy levels," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told AFP.

The removal from the endangered species listing are for up to 5,500 wolves in eight states in the Northern Rockies and the Great Lakes.

The apex predators have rapidly expanded over the past two decades and now the states of Idaho and Montana will issue public hunts beginning this fall. Some areas in Utah, Oregon and Washington could also see public hunting of the wolf return.

Gray wolves in Wyoming will remain under federal management until the state can develop a suitable management program for the animal, Salazar said.

"The recovery of gray wolves in the US is a tremendous success story of the Endangered Species Act," said Salazar. "From a biological perspective, gray wolves have recovered. It is now time to return their management to states that are prepared to ensure the long-term health of the species."

Environmental groups opposed the move, but admitted defeat after years of arguing in court to preserve the endangered status of the gray wolf.

The gray wolf recovered from near extinction last century and has achieved a range extending from the Pacific Northwest to New England.

But the federal wolf program has angered agriculturalists and sporting groups over increased attacks on livestock and big game herds.

"To be sure, not everyone will be satisfied with today's announcement," said Salazar. "Wolves have long been a highly charged issue. These delistings are possible because the species is recovered in these regions. That is a remarkable milestone for an iconic American species."

The protections on 1,300 wolves in the Northern Rockies will be legally removed effective Thursday. About 4,200 wolves in the great Lakes are also slated to lose federal protection following a public comment period.

Salazar said the government would accept public comments on its proposal to delist gray wolves in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin before acting further.

Noah Greenwald, of the Center for Biological Diversity, said Wednesday's announcement made clear that the government has no intentions of extending its wolf recovery plan nationwide.

"In our view wolf recovery is not done," Greenwald told the Associated Press (AP). "We're disappointed with seeing the Fish and Wildlife Service attempt to get out from under it."

Fish and Wildlife officials said they plan to review the gray wolf status in New England and the Pacific Northwest but did not foresee another reintroduction effort.

In addition to public hunts for wolves in Idaho and Montana, federal officials say that wolves that attack livestock will continue to be removed by wildlife agents. More than 1,500 wolves have been killed due to livestock attacks since the animals were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies in the 1990s.

Idaho state Rep. Judy Boyle said hunting alone won't be enough to reduce the number of wolves to levels in which they are not a threat to livestock and other wildlife.

Idaho will continue to ask federal wildlife officials to remove problem packs, especially in north-central Idaho's Lolo area, where the state wants to kill dozens of wolves to restore elk herds that have been affected by predation, as well as poor habitat, she said.

Wednesday's announcement leaves the fate of Wyoming gray wolves unresolved. Wyoming was left out of the attempts to restore state control over wolves due to a state law that would allow the animals to be shot on sight in most of the state.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead said Wednesday he is hopeful that an agreement can be reached with the Obama administration to get a bill through Congress lifting protections in his state. The governor suggested legislation that was the only way to prevent lawsuits from environmentalists that could otherwise derail the effort.


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