(AP) A group representing farmers and ranchers is praising a federal agency's proposal to drop protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states. The American Farm Bureau Federation says wolves have recovered from the brink of extinction and management of the species should return to state wildlife agencies.
Director of Congressional Relations Ryan Yates tells The Associated Press that many of the group's members have lost livestock to wolf kills since the population began to recover. He says farmers and ranchers obey the law and would respect whatever policies the states establish to protect wolves. Acting U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced the plan to remove gray wolf protections during a speech on Wednesday.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Gavin Shire says Bernhardt made the announcement during a speech Wednesday at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Denver. The weeklong event focuses on wildlife conservation policy and includes researchers, government officials and others.
Gray wolves received endangered species protections in 1975 when there were about 1,000 of them in Minnesota. There are now more than 5,000 living across the contiguous U.S. Most are in the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rockies regions. Protections for Northern Rockies states' wolves were lifted in 2011 and hundreds are now killed annually by hunters.
Wildlife advocates say lifting the protections could halt wolves from returning to areas where they have been absent for decades, including portions of the Adirondack Mountains in New York State and southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado and New Mexico. Lifting protections would allow hunters to kill wolves and likely slow their expansion.