(CN) – Gray wolves in Wyoming are no longer an endangered species and now will be managed by state authorities, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced amid protests from environmental groups.
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As of the end of September, gray wolves in Wyoming will be managed by state officials, rather than by the federal government, Fish and Wildlife officials said.
There are now more than 1,774 adult wolves and over 100 breeding pairs in the Northern Rocky Mountains, and authorities say the population growth has exceeded recovery goals for 10 years in a row.
“Our primary goal, and that of the states, is to ensure that gray wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains remain healthy, giving future generations of Americans the chance to hear its howl echo across the area,” Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe said in a statement.
“No one, least of all Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, wants to see wolves back on the endangered species list. But that’s what will happen if recovery targets are not sustained,” Ashe continued.
Wolf recovery in Idaho and Montana has also been a success story in recent years, and the populations in those states are now managed by a state plan, according to an agency press release.
Like Idaho and Montana, Wyoming agreed to maintain at least 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs within the state’s borders, according to the agency press release.
Biologists believe that most of Wyoming’s wolves live in the Northwest part of the state.
The state authorizes up to 52 wolves to be killed each year as “trophy game.”
Killing wolves is a contentious issue in Western states. Ranchers and farmers have successfully lobbied to legally kill wolves that have eaten livestock, while opponents say the true threat wolves pose to livestock is exaggerated.
The environmental group Defenders of Wildlife urged Fish and Wildlife to reconsider its decision, claiming that removal of federal protection will ensure “a quick and merciless effort to bring the wolf population down to the lowest possible number without triggering a re-listing.”
The group’s president and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark wrote in a blog post last week, “Now, wolves in Wyoming are more vulnerable than they have been in decades. The state’s management plan allows for the unregulated killing of wolves throughout most of Wyoming. Those who wish to kill wolves in all but a small portion of the state will not need to buy tags or permits. There will be no bag limits on wolves, or any requirement to report wolf kills. Anyone will be free to eliminate wolves by almost any means, from shooting to gassing them in their dens, even on national forests and wildlife refuges.”
The group plans to “take this fight to the courts” to keep wolves’ federal protection.
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