BOISE – Idaho is floating a new proposal that it hopes could speed the removal of federal protection for gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains.
The animals have been protected since 1975 under the Endangered Species Act after being hunted to near-extinction.
In early August, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne gave officials with the U.S. Interior Department a plan calling for removing the wolves from protected status in parts of Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Oregon.
There are more than 800 of the predators in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, following their reintroduction to the region around Yellowstone National Park a decade ago. Environmentalists and government officials say the effort has succeeded, and now many people, including ranchers and hunters, want to see the animals delisted because they believe wolves should be more tightly controlled to limit depredations on livestock and game animals.
Recent federal court rulings – and the failure of Wyoming, Idaho’s neighbor to the east, to get federal approval for a plan to manage wolves within its borders – have hampered the delisting process.
Idaho officials said Kempthorne’s proposal could break this bottleneck and move wolves closer to the day when they’ll be treated like other wildlife such as elk or black bears.
“We wanted to get the ball rolling,” said James Caswell, a former national forest supervisor who heads Idaho’s species conservation office, of the plan presented with little fanfare Aug. 4.
It calls for wolves to be delisted east of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and Washington, as well as in northern Nevada, Utah and Colorado. They’d be delisted in much of Idaho and Montana, though they would be managed under existing rules south of Interstate 90 and east of Interstate 50 in both states.
Wyoming wolves would continue to be managed by federal officials.
Hugh Vickery, an Interior spokesman in Washington, D.C., said his agency isn’t ready to comment on Kempthorne’s proposal.
Some environmental groups were skeptical, in part because territory where Kempthorne calls for the wolves to be delisted includes states where the animal hasn’t even been reintroduced, such as Nevada, Utah and Colorado. That could hamper efforts to establish wolves there, they said.
Suzanne Stone, a Boise-based spokeswoman for Defenders of Wildlife, also said it makes little sense to separate management of Wyoming wolves from those in Idaho and Montana, because wolves travel freely across state boundaries.
“As you whittle that down, you’re weakening the longterm strategy for recovery in the northern Rockies,” Stone said.
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