Wolves Make a Comeback

The gray wolf, once on the brink of extinction in the continental United States, is abundant enough in certain areas that federal officials may soon relax the animal’s level of federal protection, The New York Times reported today.

When the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, the lower 48 states had about 400 gray wolves, primarily in Minnesota and Michigan.

Now, the Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing to modify the wolf’s Endangered Species Act status from endangered to threatened, except in the Southwest, the Times said.

Shooing and Shooting Soon Permitted

The move, which could come this month, would mean wolves that kill livestock or threaten human affairs could be shooed away or shot by government agents.

In Michigan, the gray wolf population on Isle Royale rose to 29 over last winter, two years after a sharp drop to 14 prompted fears that the animals’ days in the Lake Superior national park might be numbered.

There are now more than 3,500 in eight states and thousands more in Alaska, Canada and Europe.

Comeback Not Complete

Some conservation groups, however, say the plan would ease protection too soon, before the species has re-colonized large sections of its old range. Ranchers and others counter that the laws protecting the wolves unfairly limit the rights of property owners.

The wolf still would be considered endangered — and therefore have strict protections — in southern Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, where efforts to increase the numbers of a rare subspecies have stumbled.

Once the new classification is formally announced, it will be subject to four months of public comment and eight months of internal discussions and possible revisions before it becomes law.