BILLINGS, Mont. -- The Obama administration has proposed lifting most of the remaining federal protections for gray wolves in the Lower 48 states. The announcement came on Friday, and marks a historic day almost four decades after the animals were added to the endangered species list.
More than 6,100 wolves roam parts of the Northern Rockies and western Great Lakes. That includes wolves in the state of Idaho, whose population is estimated at about 1,000.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that those populations are robust enough to stave off extinction.
Federal protections would remain only for a fledgling population of Mexican gray wolves in the desert Southwest. Some prominent scientists and dozens of lawmakers in Congress want broader protections to remain in place so wolves can expand, including in the Northeast and along the West Coast.
"You could view this proposal as a vote of confidence for the ability of the Idaho and Montana and Wyoming state wildlife agencies to take it from here," said Chris Tollefson, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be out of the business of managing wolves," Tollefson added.
In 1995, a federal wolf recovery program was established in which 35 wolves were released into the State of Idaho, according to the Idaho Governor's Office of Species Concern. According to that same report, 30 more wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park that same year.
Wolves were delisted in Idaho in April of 2011. Hunting and trapping seasons for Idaho wolves have been observed in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
As of June, 6 2013, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game reports 319 wolves harvested in Idaho through a combination of hunting and trapping during the 2012-13 wolf season.
The department reports 379 were harvested during the 2011-12 season.