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Gray wolves to lose endangered status

Gray wolves will be fair game for hunters in parts of the northern Rocky Mountains after federal officials announced Thursday that they would be taken off the endangered species list.

The decision, which is expected to face lengthy litigation, comes after a 20-year effort to reestablish gray wolf populations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

"The wolves took the opportunity that Fish and Wildlife Service, the states and the tribes gave them and ran with it," Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett said. "Wolves are back."

The three states have started planning for the fall hunting season. Montana submitted its wolf plan the day before delisting, and Idaho and Wyoming will finalize their plans in the coming months.

Environmental groups were dismayed by the decision, calling it shortsighted and a political concession to ranching and hunting interests.

"It's a huge step back for wolf recovery in the Rockies," said Doug Honnold, managing attorney for the northern Rockies office of Earth Justice, an environmental group. "The sad part is that we're approaching legitimate biological recovery, but we're not there yet."

Honnold said he would serve a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service next week on behalf of environmental organizations including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Gray wolves once were plentiful from central Mexico to the Arctic, but were killed off for decades, and by the 1930s had virtually disappeared from the American West. In 1974, they were listed as endangered.




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