Wolves to lose federal protection today
Federal protections for some 1,200 gray wolves in Montana and Idaho officially end on Thursday under unprecedented legislation passed by Congress last month removing them from the endangered species list.
The effective date of the de-listing, which places the wolves under state wildlife control and opens them to licensed hunting, was announced on Wednesday by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a conference call with reporters.
Another 4,000 wolves in the western Great Lakes region could lose their status as threatened or endangered early next year under a separate government proposal issued last month.
Wolves were once hunted, trapped and poisoned to the edge of extinction. But their recovery in the Midwest and Northern Rockies has brought them into conflict with ranchers, farmers and sportsmen who see the animal as a growing threat to livestock and big-game animals, such as elk and deer.
Environmentalists say the impact of wolves on cattle herds and wildlife is overstated, and they fear removal of federal safeguards could push the wolf back to the brink.
The controversy has been especially heated in the Rockies, where gray wolves were reintroduced over the vehement objections of ranchers in the mid-1990s.
The iconic predators finally were designated for de-listing in legislation signed into law in April, becoming the first creature ever taken off the endangered list by an act of Congress rather than through a process of scientific review.
The legislative de-listing also applies to about three dozen wolves in Oregon, Utah and Washington state. Another 300 wolves in Wyoming will remain protected for the time being.
Salazar called the recovery of gray wolves in the United States "a tremendous success story of the Endangered Species Act," and he lamented years of legal "gridlock" that thwarted previous efforts to lift federal wolf protections.