Sunday, January 18, 2015

Big Bad Wolves? Not even.

January 16, 2015

Wildlife officials say gray wolves are no longer endangered—but not everyone agrees.
By Joe Bubar | for Scholastic News

Should gray wolves be protected or hunted? Government officials, wildlife-protection groups, and ranchers can’t seem to agree on an answer. A recent court ruling that gives wolves more protection in one state has heated up this ongoing debate.

BACK FROM THE BRINK

As many as 2 million gray wolves once roamed the United States. But for decades, hunters and ranchers killed wolves for sport or to protect their livestock. By the 1970s, the gray wolf had nearly vanished south of Canada.

To help the struggling species, gray wolves were placed on the endangered species list in 1974. Animals on the list cannot be harmed, and their habitats must be protected. Another boost came in the mid-1990s, when wildlife officials brought packs of wolves from Canada into the U.S. The number of gray wolves in the contiguous U.S. eventually bounced back to about 6,000.

Mike Jimenez, a biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), calls the gray wolves’ comeback “a great success story.” By 2013, the FWS had removed gray wolves from the endangered species list in six states and parts of three others. The FWS has since been pushing to delist wolves in most of the rest of the U.S. “There’s absolutely no threat of extinction for gray wolves,” Jimenez says.

A WAR OVER WOLVES

Hunting wolves is now legal in most states where they’ve been delisted. Ranchers say that’s important for keeping cattle and sheep safe from the predators. But many conservationists say wolves still need protection. They argue that the wolf population is still too small and that the animals still don’t live in most of their former range.

Last fall, conservationists scored a victory when a federal judge ruled that gray wolves must be put back on the endangered species list in Wyoming. Wolves in that state had been removed from the list in 2012. “We’re thrilled,” says Suzanne Stone, of Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group. “This means that wolves can move more safely across a broader part of their historic range.”

This article originally appeared in the January 5, 2015 issue of Scholastic News magazine.

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