The Latest: Farm group applauds plan to drop wolf protection

A group representing farmers and ranchers is praising a federal agency's proposal to drop protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states

BILLINGS, Mont. -- The Latest on plans to lift endangered species protections for gray wolves in the Lower 48 states (all times local):

1:20 p.m.

A group representing farmers and ranchers is praising a federal agency's proposal to drop protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states.

The American Farm Bureau Federation says wolves have recovered from the brink of extinction and management of the species should return to state wildlife agencies.

Director of Congressional Relations Ryan Yates tells The Associated Press that many of the group's members have lost livestock to wolf kills since the population began to recover.

He says farmers and ranchers obey the law and would respect whatever policies the states establish to protect wolves.

Acting U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced the plan to remove gray wolf protections during a speech on Wednesday.

11 a.m.

Acting U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt says the nation's population of gray wolves has fully recovered across the Lower 48 states and no longer needs federal protection.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Gavin Shire says Bernhardt made the announcement during a speech Wednesday at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Denver. The weeklong event focuses on wildlife conservation policy and includes researchers, government officials and others.

Gray wolves received endangered species protections in 1975 when there were about 1,000 of them in Minnesota. There are now more than 5,000 living across the contiguous U.S.

Most are in the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rockies regions.

Protections for Northern Rockies states' wolves were lifted in 2011 and hundreds are now killed annually by hunters.

Wildlife advocates say lifting the protections could halt wolves from returning to areas where they have been absent for decades.

10:15 a.m.

Wildlife advocates say plans to lift protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states could halt the predators' recovery in many areas where they've been exterminated.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Spokesman Gavin Shire told the Associated Press Wednesday the government will propose lifting protections for wolves in coming days based on their successful recovery.

But environmental groups say the gray wolf remains absent across a majority of its former range, including portions of the Adirondack Mountains in New York State and southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado and New Mexico.

Lifting protections would allow hunters to kill wolves and likely slow their expansion. Hunting already is allowed in the Northern Rockies states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

Collette Adkins with the Center for Biological Diversity says her group will go to court to attempt to stop the government from lifting protections.

———

8:45 a.m.

U.S. wildlife officials plan to lift protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states, a move certain to re-ignite the legal battle over a predator that's rebounding in some regions but absent in others.

Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was expected to announce the proposal during a Wednesday speech before a wildlife conference in Denver.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Spokesman Gavin Shire tells the Associated Press the proposal is based on wolves successfully recovering from widespread extermination over the last century.

The wolves received endangered species protections in 1975 and there are now more than 5,000 in the contiguous U.S.

Most are in the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rockies regions.

Protections for Northern Rockies states' wolves were lifted in 2011 and hundreds are now killed annually by hunters.