- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

DENVER — The Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday started a series of hearings on whether to remove the Canadian gray wolf from the endangered species list, a proposal embraced by ranchers and decried by wildlife groups.

The agency proposed the delisting last month after announcing that a wolf-recovery plan had surpassed all expectations. Reintroduced to the Northern Rockies in 1995, the wolves now number more than 1,200 in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

The proposal was a relief to ranching and farming communities, where wolves have proved bad for business by preying on sheep, calves and other livestock. Wolf packs have attacked hunting and ranching dogs, prompting calls to loosen restrictions on shooting the predators.

“The wolf population has gotten so numerous that they’re starting to spend time on private land, and they’re killing more livestock,” said John Thompson, spokesman for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.

The recovery program has been especially successful in Idaho, home to more than 700 of the reintroduced wolves. Under the proposed delisting, the wolves would lose their protected status, and federal wildlife agencies would turn over control of their management to the states.

The delisting also would allow the states to approve “lethal control” of the wolf population. Under current rules, a wolf cannot be shot without proof that it attacked ranch animals.

Recovery advocates fear that placing the states in charge of the wolf populations could result in a wholesale slaughter. All three states were hostile to the reintroduction, and Idaho and Wyoming have submitted management plans that wildlife groups describe as pro-hunter and anti-wolf.

They point to Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who created a stir when he said, “I’m going to bid for the first ticket to shoot a wolf.”

Wyoming officials took the Fish and Wildlife Service to court after the agency rejected the state’s original management plan. The Wyoming Legislature is attempting to broker a compromise agreement this week before going out of session Friday.

“[The states] have given us reason not to trust them,” said Amaroq Weiss, director of Western species conservation for Defenders of Wildlife. “What’s the point of spending all this time and money on re-establishing the wolf population, only to cut their numbers by 80 percent?”

The federal delisting proposal also includes the 4,000 wolves in the Great Lakes region, which includes Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Most wildlife groups support that delisting, pointing to greater protections offered by those states.

“In the Great Lakes, the states have developed well-balanced wolf management plans,” Miss Weiss said. “None of their politicians is calling for a drastic reduction in the wolf population, as you see in the Northern Rockies.”

Mr. Otter’s spokesman Mark Warbis said Idaho’s plan is aimed at maintaining a balance between the wolf population and the state’s livestock and wild game herds. Any wolf hunting would be done by sportsmen, not professionals, and hunters would have to obtain a state license and a tag for every wolf they hoped to kill.

The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to hold six hearings on the delisting proposal throughout the Rocky Mountain West. The comment period runs through May 9.

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