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Gray wolves have been removed from the endangered-species list in Idaho and Montana. (Edwin Giesbers / Nature Picture Library)

Are Wolves Still Endangered?

Congress votes to take the gray wolf off America’s endangered-species list, sending environmentalists howling

By Laura Modigliani | April 22 , 2011
<p>TOP: Gray wolves were nearly wiped out by 1974, but their populations have bounced back due to their endangered species status. (Ronald Wittek / dpa / Corbis) </p><p>BOTTOM: Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin will decide how to handle their wolf populations next month. (Jim McMahon) </p>

TOP: Gray wolves were nearly wiped out by 1974, but their populations have bounced back due to their endangered species status. (Ronald Wittek / dpa / Corbis)

BOTTOM: Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin will decide how to handle their wolf populations next month. (Jim McMahon)

Last week brought good news and bad news for the country’s gray wolves. Gray wolf populations have risen so steadily in recent years that Congress voted in favor of taking the animal off the endangered-species list in two states, Idaho and Montana.

But that also means gray wolves have lost significant protection in those states, so they can now be hunted and killed there. Protections for wolves may also be lifted in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tackles the issue at a public hearing on May 18.

Not long ago, gray wolves were hard to find in the United States. By 1974, hunting and habitat loss had nearly wiped out the species in the lower 48 states (all states except Alaska and Hawaii). The animal was put on the endangered-species list that year.

Animals on the list are protected from being hunted. Their habitats, or the environments in which they live, must also be protected.

But the wolves have made a big comeback because of their protected status. Nearly 6,000 now live in the lower 48 states. (In Alaska, gray wolf populations have always been large.) That’s great news for the wolves! But it also means that politicians have been hotly debating whether the species still needs protection.

PROTECTION POLITICS

Those who support delisting the wolf say the animal is dangerous, putting people at risk and threatening livestock, or animals like cows owned by farmers. On Tuesday, Idaho Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter declared the wolves a “disaster emergency” in his state. But wildlife protection groups argue that removing the wolves from the list would again threaten the species.

This isn’t the first time politicians and environmental groups have argued over gray wolves. In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the endangered-species list in Idaho and Montana. But in 2010, a federal judge ruled that wolves in those states should be put back on the list.

Now Congress, for the first time, has voted to allow an animal on America’s endangered-species list to be delisted. The change will take effect within 60 days.

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