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Gray wolves to be removed from endangered species list

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Emily Guerin | Jun 07, 2013 01:30 PM

Gray wolves no longer face the threat of extinction, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Calling the recovery “one of the most remarkable success stories in the history of conservation," FWS Director Dan Ashe announced today the agency is proposing to remove all of the nation's wolves from the endangered species list, turning management over to states. Federal protection will remain for the Mexican wolf.

Since gray wolves were first re-introduced to the Northern Rockies in 1995, there have been various attempts to de-list them. In recent years, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming succeeded in getting state control over their populations of gray wolves. Now, management of wolves in Oregon, Washington and other lower-48 states will also be handed over; in most states they'll still be under state-level endangered species protection.

Gray wolf in Montana
Gray wolf in Montana. Courtesy Flickr user funpics47.

“No one suggests that gray wolves don’t require management,” Ashe said in a teleconference on Friday. “The issue is whether gray wolves still require federal protection under the endangered species act, and we believe quite clearly they do not."

Friday’s de-listing proposal is already being questioned by some environmentalists who view the move as premature.

“Wolves currently inhabit only a fraction of their former range, and this proposal will cut off wolf recovery from vast areas of suitable habitat out west where the species can still thrive,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a press release.

But Ashe firmly told reporters at the teleconference that for wolves to be considered recovered, they do not need to occupy most or all of their historic range. He also said he expected to see wolves continue to expand into northern California, Utah, Nevada and Colorado under state management.

In its response to the de-listing, Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species director, Noah Greenwald, worried states would kill too many wolves under their management plans.

Mexican wolf in captivity.
Mexican wolf in captivity. Courtesy Flickr user Don Burkett.

But Ashe doesn't share that concern. He noted that Wyoming recently reduced its wolf-hunting quota. Hunters bagged 42 wolves in the state’s first-ever hunting season last year, reducing the population by 16 percent from 2011. Now, state wildlife officials are cutting the quota in half to 26 wolves. Officials need to keep the total number of wolves around 140, with at least 10 breeding pairs, to avoid a re-listing.

Ashe cited that reduction as evidence that states can effectively monitor and manage the animals. “We have no indication that states will over-harvest wolves,” he said.

Many sportsmen’s groups praised the decision, including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which called it “a significant achievement for science-based wildlife conservation.”

The public has 90 days to comment on the de-listing proposal, and a final decision is expected within a year.

Select previous High Country News coverage of gray and Mexican wolves:

Mexican wolves are caught in the crossfire of the battle over public lands. December 24, 2007.

Will Westerners finally learn how to live with Canis lupus? Nov. 10, 2008.

How the gray wolf lost its endangered status—and how environmentalists helped. May 30, 2011.

The remarkably smooth recovery of gray wolves in the Great Lakes. Dec. 30, 2011.

From predator to prey: Wyoming’s gray wolves are de-listed. Sept. 6, 2012.

Emily Guerin is the assistant online editor at High Country News.

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