BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - The Latest on the proposed removal of federal protections for wolves (all times local):
A proposal to strip gray wolves of federal protections could curtail their rapid expansion across vast swaths of the U.S., yet the predators already are proving to be resilient in states where hunting and trapping occur.
The Interior Department on Thursday declared gray wolves recovered across the Lower 48 states. If finalized, the proposal would allow hunting in more areas.
The species has seen a remarkable turnaround - from near-extermination to more than 6,000 gray wolves spread across nine states.
Critics say hunts could kill thousands of the animals and prevent their further spread.
But in the Northern Rockies, where legal wolf harvests began a decade ago, the animal's numbers have held relatively steady and packs have expanded west into Oregon, Washington and California.
U.S. wildlife officials want to strip gray wolves of their remaining federal protections and declare the species recovered following a decades-long restoration effort.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal released Thursday would put wolves under state authority and allow hunting in more areas. The Associated Press reported last week that the proposal was coming.
Critics argue the move is premature, with wolves still absent across most of their historic range.
Government officials say their goal was to protect against extinction, not restore wolves everywhere.
Trapping, poisoning and hunting exterminated wolves across most of the Lower 48 early last century. They bounced back under federal protection, and more than 6,000 now live in portions of nine states.
A final decision on lifting protections will follow a public comment period.
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