Gray wolves lose federal protection
Federal protections for 1,200 gray wolves in Montana and Idaho officially end Thursday under unprecedented legislation passed by Congress last month.
Thu, May 05, 2011 at 08:00 AM
UNPROTECTED: 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. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
SALMON, Idaho - 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 delisting, 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.
The newly passed legislation bars judicial review.
As they assume management of wolves estimated to number 700 in Idaho and 550 in Montana, state game officers already have targeted scores of wolves for elimination in specific areas where they are blamed for decimating elk herds.
In Idaho, wildlife managers plan to begin aerial gunning, trapping and snaring to kill off about 60 of the 80 wolves believed to roam a hunting zone in the north-central part of the state. The head of Idaho's wildlife agency said Wednesday he expects that effort to begin within weeks, if not days.
In western Montana's Bitterroot Valley, game officials are preparing to reduce a pack of about 24 wolves by half through lethal control measures and possibly limited public hunts.
Annual "harvest" quotas are expected to be set at 220 wolves in each state once licensed hunting seasons open in the fall. Each state is obligated to maintain a minimum population of 150 wolves to prevent renewed federal intervention.
Nearly 190 wolves were killed by hunters in Idaho during the 2009-2010 season while a previous de-listing, later struck down by a federal judge, was briefly in effect.
Wyoming has been excluded from de-listing because its management plan would have allowed wolves to be shot on sight.
Officials there are still in talks with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over a retooled wolf management proposal that is more likely to meet with federal approval.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Greg McCune)
Copyright 2011 Reuters Environmental Online Report