Federal wildlife officials are calling the decades-long gray wolf recovery plan a success. On Friday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing the gray wolf from the list of threatened and endangered species.
Recovery efforts began more than 30 years ago. In the 1990s, the animals were reintroduced into the Northern Rockies and in parts of Wyoming and Montana. Since then, populations have recovered and the agency says it’s time to focus resources on something else.
Fish and Wildlife spokesman Chris Tollefson says federal, state and local agencies have helped in the animal’s recovery. Under the proposal, state wildlife management agencies would take over responsibility for management and protection of gray wolves in states where they are found.
Wolf sightings in Utah are disputed, but Tollefson says it’s likely the animals will extend their range into the state and into Colorado and the Dakotas.
In the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains, the gray wolf has rebounded from the brink of extinction and exceeded population targets by as much as 300 percent, Tollefson added.
"It's a huge step foward," he said. "We've been working on wolf conservation and recovery for four decades. So to get to the point where we have a population that is self-sustaining and thriving and no longer requires the protection of the Endangered Species Act is a huge success."
A 90-day public comment period will follow Friday's announcement and an official ruling on the matter is expected in 2014. The Fish and Wildlife Service says it plans to maintain protection and expand recovery efforts for the Mexican wolf.
Gray wolf populations in the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segments were removed from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife in 2011 and 2012. The new proposal, Tollefson explained, would eliminate federal protection for the animals throughout the entire United States.
For Utah Public Radio, I'm Matt Jensen.