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USA Today 2/1/06

Wolves may drop off endangered list

DENVER The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will issue a proposal Thursday to remove gray wolves in the northern Rockies from the Endangered Species List, a decade after they returned to the region.

Ed Bangs, head of the government's wolf recovery program, said Wednesday that the animals have recovered so well that the agency is no longer equipped to manage so many about 1,000 gray wolves in parts of six states.

The species was nearly wiped out in the continental USA by westward settlement. The population has soared since biologists released 66 wolves from Canada in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995-96. Another protected population of gray wolves lives in northern Minnesota. The species is not threatened in Alaska.

Bangs said the proposal cannot go forward until Wyoming revises its plan for managing the 225 wolves in the state once protection is lifted. Wyoming's plan would allow unlimited killing of wolves in areas outside the northwest corner of the state. Bangs calls that "unregulated human persecution."

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal said the state does not intend to change its plan. He said today's announcement is "political blackmail" to pressure the state. Plans in Idaho and Montana, where most of the other wolves live, are in place.

Freudenthal said Bangs "is simplifying the issue quite a bit." He said federal officials refuse to take responsibility for managing wolves in Yellowstone once they are off the endangered list.

Last summer, Wyoming petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species List.

The agency and conservation groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, consider the wolf's comeback one of the biggest successes of the Endangered Species Act. The 1973 law has helped save bald eagles and other rare species.

Some of the groups are skeptical the states are ready to manage the wolves.

"This is premature. This would be a real tragedy," says Jamie Rappaport Clark, former head of Fish and Wildlife and now executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife. Her group and others also oppose Idaho's plan as insufficient.

Wolves thrive in central Idaho, where Bangs estimates 550 live. Ranchers, hunters and groups such as the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition contend that wolves kill wildlife, livestock and pets.

Ron Gillett, the coalition chairman, said the proposed delisting is "a joke" because states still can't manage the wolves "without checking with the feds first." He said the group will file a proposed ballot initiative in Idaho today pledging "to get rid of the wolves."




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