Grey Wolves Lose Endangered Status, For Good?

Under pressure from hunters, ranchers and farmers, Congress removed the Rocky Mountain grey wolf from the endangered species list in Montana, Idaho and parts of Washington and Oregon this week, much to the consternation of environmentalists and animal-rights groups. Host Scott Simon speaks with reporter Jim Robbins about the first-ever act of Congress to remove an animal from the endangered species list.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This week, Congress ended federal protection for the grey wolf in Montana, Idaho and parts of Washington state and Oregon. Those states will now set their own policies on hunting wolves, which had been deemed to be endangered. It's the first time that an animal has been removed from the endangered species list by an act of Congress.

The ensuing debate between animal protection groups and hunters, ranchers and farmers who push for the legislation has been fierce. Jim Robbins has reported on grey wolf populations for the New York Times and Scientific American magazine. He joins us from his office in Helena, Montana.

Jim, thanks for being with us.

Mr. JIM ROBBINS (Reporter, New York Times): My pleasure.

SIMON: And help us understand the arguments between those who support this congressional action and those who oppose it.

Mr. ROBBINS: Well, environmentalists say that what's happened here is instead of going through the usual procedures with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist, Congress took a shortcut that doesn't reflect the science but more reflects the political nature of the debate over wolves. But this has been going on for many years and many people say it was just a way to cut to the quick and have wolves delisted so they could be easier to manage.

SIMON: Well, help us understand the logic of that. What are the size of grey wolves' populations? Are they in any danger of disappearing or conversely do the size of the populations present a problem?

Mr. ROBBINS: Well, they do present a problem in some ways. I have some figures here. I mean, there've been over 3,000 sheep killed, 37 goats, 4 miniature horses. Fifty-some dogs have been killed since wolves were reintroduced. So, yeah, they do cause problems.

But at the same time they've also restored some order to natural systems by killing excess numbers of elk and deer. The story of wolves is a story of on the one hand and on the other. And so for everything you can find the problem that they cause, they also do some good things.

SIMON: Apparently, the state of Idaho didn't waste any time in issuing wolf hunting licenses for sale on Thursday. Do you expect other states to follow?

Mr. ROBBINS: Montana has a fall hunting season and they've talked about a spring hunting season, although that won't happen this year. Idaho has also talked about killing some wolves that are threatening elk populations.

And you asked me earlier, you know, how many wolves are there. Well, there's, you know, 1,600, 1,700 wolves in three states. And so that's a lot of wolves. And so in some areas there are too many wolves and it is a problem. And so they'll have to reduce some numbers.

But I don't think that anyone is going to go out and start just shooting wolves. There are still federal standards that these states have to reach -Idaho and Montana. They can't reduce numbers to almost nothing. Once they hit a certain trigger these animals will be relisted. And I think that's 150 wolves per state.

But no state wants to go down as the state that lost the wolf, and so both these states - Idaho and Montana - are pretty careful in their management of wildlife.

SIMON: Jim Robbins, joining us from Helena, Montana. Thanks so much.

Mr. ROBBINS: You're welcome.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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