for National Geographic Today
By late spring or early summer, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service may propose removing the western population of gray wolf from the endangered species list.
The population has made a comeback in the Northern Rockies, which represents a significant achievement for the wolfand for conservation. But the delisting proposal has sparked debate among federal and state agencies, and private environmental groups about whether the wolf should indeed roam free of the endangered designation.
After delisting, states would inherit responsibility for managing the wolf populations outside the national parks, as they do for black bear, deer, elk and mountain lion.
"We are wheeling the gray wolf out of the emergency room and into long-term care," says Ed Bangs, a biologist and a coordinator of the USFWS wolf recovery program in Helena, Mont.
The delisting proposal rests on state willingnessand readinessto maintain the wolf population so that it doesn't become endangered again.
Delisting would not signal open season on wolves, according to Bangs. "There would probably be more liberal taking of problem wolves," he says, "and a regulated public hunting season."
The gray wolf once was the most widely distributed large predator in North America. By 1930 the wolf had almost vanished from the 48 contiguous states, leaving only a small population in the Midwest.
Since 1974 the federal Endangered Species Act has protected the wolf.
Recovery Goals Met?
"As of a couple of weeks ago we met our recovery goal of having more than 30 breeding pairs for three successive years," Bangs says.
A late December census counted 677 wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming558 of which are descended from 66 wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone and Idaho in 1995 and 1996.
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