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The gray wolf heads back to court

By / May 7, 2009



It's one of those wildlife stories where hardly anyone involved ends up happy with the outcome. And these days, that generally means lawsuits.

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Almost extinct in 1974 when it was placed on the endangered species list, the Rocky Mountain gray wolf has made such a comeback, says the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), that it was officially delisted earlier this week (except for Wyoming, where it remains a protected species – more on this in a minute).

The FWS is happy because the gray wolf population has recovered. "Currently, there are at least 1,645 wolves in the NRM [Northern Rocky Mountains] living in about 217 packs," it reports.

But ranchers and farmers aren't thrilled, to say the least, by an increase in gray wolves in their region. Their feelings of many are summed up in an opinion piece by Bill Moore at, Wolves: Ranchers deserve to protect their property.

According to the FWS's figures: "Since 1987, confirmed kills by wolves total 1,109 cattle, 2,133 sheep, 115 dogs, 21 llamas, 28 goats, and 10 horses," and the "rate of kill" is increasing, although the level is lower than predicted.

But many environmentalists also aren't happy that gray wolves are no longer protected by the endangered species list (the delisting upheld a last-minute decision by the Bush administration). The announcement by the Interior Department "drew protests, including a letter signed by 225 scientists, saying the wolf population hadn't grown large enough," says SFGate.

Groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council say that the wolves are going unprotected too soon. “Last time the [Fish & Wildlife] Service removed legal protections, there was an all out war on wolves in the weeks that followed,” said Louisa Willcox, director of the NRDC’s office in Livingston, Mont. “We are so incredibly close to fulfilling the conditions necessary to declare the wolves’ comeback as complete, but this move threatens to undo what should be an incredible conservation success story.”

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