|DENVER - The U.S. government will not proceed with taking the western gray wolf off the Endangered Species list until the state of Wyoming changes how it plans to manage the predator, officials said on Tuesday.|
Wyoming wants to classify the gray wolf as a predator species in parts of the state, which would allow unlimited hunting, something the federal officials said they cannot accept. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has accepted the plans of Idaho and Montana, the two other states where the core of the western gray wolf lives, but not Wyoming\'s.
The wolf was once hunted to near extinction, but under the protection of the Endangered Species Act has made a successful comeback with about 760 animals living in the three western states. It is now time to remove the wolves from the endangered list, but not until a management plan to keep the species healthy is in place.
Also, because the population in the three states is considered one entity the gray wolf will not be delisted until changes are made in Wyoming, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams said.
\"Delisting can move forward as soon as Wyoming makes the changes we\'ve identified to both its state law and its wolf management plan, but not until then because these wolves are part of one distinct population segment,\" Williams said.
The gray wolf was reintroduced with great fanfare in Yellowstone National Park in 1995. The controversial move set off a legal battle but the animals kept thriving.
Wyoming officials wanted to have two classifications of wolf -- one comprising the area around Yellowstone where the animal would be considered a trophy game species and the other where it would be considered a predator and hunted without limits like coyotes.
A spokeswoman for Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal was not available to comment.
Federal officials estimate there are about 190 wolves in Montana, 235 in Wyoming and 339 in Idaho for a total of 764 wolves.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE