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You may recall that, last April, Congress removed the Rocky Mountain gray wolf from the federal endangered species list. And conservation groups howled. As part of a budget deal also approved by the White House, states like Idaho now have full authority over the wolf's fate. And they are eager to use that authority, as NPR's Martin Kaste reports.

MARTIN KASTE: Environmentalists see the wolf de-listing as a calamity. But in Idaho, there's a different take.

Mr. DAVE CADWALLADER (Idaho Fish and Game): We're not going to annihilate wolves or remove wolves from the landscape.

KASTE: Dave Cadwallader is regional supervisor with Idaho Fish and Game. The way he sees things, the wolf is finally just another animal.

Mr. CADWALLADER: You know, wolves are classified as a big game animal in Idaho, and we fully intend to manage them like we do our other big game animals that we've done successfully, bears and lions, for example. And we want to be able to do the same with wolves.

KASTE: That means regular wolf hunts, probably starting this fall. The state is already shooting. Fish and Game recently sent helicopters to a part of the state where wolves are thought to be killing too many elk. The aerial gunning, as it's called, killed five wolves.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

KASTE: Stan Denham keeps hunting dogs on his land just outside Elk City, a tiny town at the end of the highway in Idaho's Clearwater Mountains.

Mr. STAN DENHAM (Deputy, Sheriffs Department, Idaho County): That's Penny, it's a little female. That's Digger down there. My kids named them all.

KASTE: Residents of Elk City say they've been especially plagued by wolves. They say the wolves are killing huge numbers of elk, and driving the frightened survivors right into town. Other animals have also been killed. Denham recently lost one of his dogs.

Mr. DENHAM: They attacked her right over here and then drug her down the hill into the timber. The whole hillside here seemed like it was covered with blood.

KASTE: Denham also happens to be one the two sheriffs' deputies here. And in May, the state gave them special authorization to shoot wolves in Elk City Township - any wolves.

Mr. DENHAM: This is actually a request to hunt them and put some effort into shooting them, whether they're causing problems or not.

(Soundbite of barking dogs)

KASTE: It's debatable whether killing wolves will bring back the elk - the science just isn't clear. But when it comes to wolves, science is sometimes beside the point.

John Freemuth is a professor at Boise State, who's tracked the politics of this issue. And he says anti-wolf feelings have deep historical roots.

Professor JOHN FREEMUTH (Political Science, Boise State University): The wolf was viewed as a sort of a bad species, a predator that needed to be removed so the West could be settled and developed.

KASTE: People worked hard to eradicate the wolf. Then, a few generations later, the federal government came along and said that was all wrong. In the 1990s, it brought in fresh wolves from Canada.

Prof. FREEMUTH: Suddenly it's being brought back and it's a good species to have on the land. The history there just suggests that some people are going to be a little befuddled by that.

KASTE: Befuddled or just plain angry. And in the West, it's not unusual for the wolf to become a symbol for other contentious issues.

Sitting in the general store in Elk City, Carmen Williams considers the fed's insistence on bringing back the wolves and sees a deeper motivation.

Mr. CARMEN WILLIAMS: Gun control in disguise.

KASTE: How do wolves lead to gun control?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, if we don't have any game left to shoot, why what's the sense of carrying a rifle?

KASTE: These aren't majority opinions in Idaho, not by a long shot. But these are powerful political undercurrents. And over the last few years, they've been intensified by the prolonged court battles over when and how to take the growing wolf population off the Endangered Species List.

Randy Stewart has seen some of that anger over the years at the Wolf Education Research Center, in the small Idaho town of Winchester.

Mr. RANDY STEWART (Education Coordinator, Wolf Education Research Center): Here comes the alpha male. He is beginning to shed his undercoat

KASTE: Behind a chain-link fence, a gray wolf silently touches its nose to Stewart's hand in greeting. Stewart, who guides tours at this wolf center, says he's seen attitudes sharpen in recent years, on both sides.

Mr. STEWART: There are probably still people that don't want wolves here and would like to see them all removed. And there are still people that say don't hunt a wolf. But we're not in a society, in my opinion, that we can have one or the other extreme.

KASTE: Some Western conservationists are hoping the delisting of the wolf also has a silver lining. They say, now that the wolf is no longer federally protected, maybe it can also shed its reputation as the federal government's pet.

Martin Kaste, NPR news.

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