Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves are being removed from the endangered species list, following a successful, 13-year restoration effort that has seen their numbers soar.
The 41 wolves reintroduced to the region from 1995 through 1997 have since spread across a wide area and proliferated. Now, about 1,500 wolves roam Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
The removal from the endangered list was announced Thursday by the U.S. Department of Interior. Ranchers and hunters have long considered the animals to be their enemies — and the loss of federal protection will allow states to move forward with public hunts for the animals.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will hand management of the wolves over to the states — primarily Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett called the wolf recovery program a "remarkable conservation success story," but wolf advocates disagree. They are upset that wolves will once again be hunted, and they say the population levels allowed by the government are not large enough to maintain a viable population.
Advocates plan to sue to stop the government from removing the wolves from federal protection.