The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that the gray wolf population in Wyoming has recovered to the point where they no longer warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This means that from September 30th on, wolves in the state will be “managed” under an approved plan. Unfortunately, this means that Wyoming is required to maintain only 10 breeding pairs of wolves and 100 animals. It also means farmers, hunters and anyone else can essentially shoot the wolves on sight.

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In a statement, Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said: “The return of the wolf to the Northern Rocky Mountains is a major success story, and reflects the remarkable work of States, Tribes, and our many partners to bring this iconic species back from the brink of extinction. The wolf population has remained healthy under state management in Idaho and Montana, and we’re confident that the Wyoming population will sustain its recovery under the management plan Wyoming will implement.”

However environmental groups don’t agree. Speaking to BBC News, Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife, called it “a tragic ending to what has otherwise been one of America’s greatest wildlife conservation success stories”. The group has also said they will take legal action to ensure protections for wolves are reinstated.

In the face of such concerns, the US Fish and Wildlife Service have said they will continue to monitor the delisted wolf populations in all three states for a minimum of five years to ensure that they continue to sustain their recovery, and retains authority to reinstate ESA protections at any time if circumstances warrant.

“Our primary goal, and that of the state’s, is to ensure that gray wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains remain healthy, giving future generations of Americans the chance to hear its howl echo across the area,” added Ashe. “No one, least of all Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, wants to see wolves back on the endangered species list. But that’s what will happen if recovery targets are not sustained.”

The vast majority of Wyoming’s wolf population and habitat is located in northwest Wyoming, where wolves will be managed as “trophy game” animals year-round. Trophy game status allows the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to regulate timing, methods, and numbers of wolves taken through regulated hunting and other methods such as control of wolves found to be depredating on livestock.

There were once almost two million gray wolves in North America, but they were nearly wiped out by fur traders and hunters in the 1930s. The most recent official minimum population estimate shows that the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population contains more than 1,774 adult wolves and more than 109 breeding pairs.

+ US Fish and Wildlife Service

via BBC News

Lead image (cc) Wikimedia user Malene Thysen, Second image (cc) Wikimedia user Walterince