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Nature News
by Marlene Harris

October 2000   —   Wolf Status to be Downlisted

As briefly mentioned in last month’s news, the US Government has a proposal on the table to downgrade the status of the gray wolf, from endangered, to threatened, in much of its range.

This news has been of great concern to wolf supporters in the US. The gray wolf, once nearly eliminated in the lower 48 states has made a modest comeback in several regions, although the species is by no means, out of the woods. In 1973, there were only approximately 400 wolves remaining in the lower 48 states, mostly in Minnesota. That year, the Endangered Species Act was passed and the few remaining wolves were fully protected under the new legislation. Since then, the wolf has dispersed naturally into at least 8 states. That coupled with the reintroduction of wolves into areas of Wyoming and Idaho, have seen the estimated number of animals climb to between three and four thousand. Still, biologists estimate that the species occurs today in a mere 5% of its ancestral range, and many are concerned that the federal government’s proposal will lead to protection of the species being relaxed way too soon.

Appeasement for Ranchers

The status, "threatened" will mean that wolf protection, rather than being a federal matter, will revert to the individual states, and that could spell trouble in cases of wolves versus ranchers in confrontations over livestock killing. Many ranchers say the present laws limit their powers as property owners, and they should be able to defend their stock by killing wolves if necessary.

Some wildlife officials admit they support the change in status as hopefully appeasing some of the ranchers, and other opponents of wolf reintroduction, by allowing the option to kill wolves in cases of livestock predation. With the present endangered status, wolves can not be killed under any circumstances and the fines for killing wolves are extremely high and such measures also run the risk of imprisonment. (There have however been instances in which frustrated ranchers have shot wolves and buried the bodies to avoid detection.)

Some of the proposed areas in which wolf status would be reclassified include most of the lower 48 states excluding Yellowstone National Park, central Idaho and the southern areas of Arizona and New Mexico.

Public hearings on the status change proposal, sponsored by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, are now taking place and will end in early November.

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