The gray wolf once roamed from coast to coast and from Alaska to Mexico in North America. It is believed they are second only to humans in adapting to climate extremes. But a century of hunting brought them to near extinction. Now there are more than 5,000 in the United States, not counting a thriving population larger than that in Alaska. After three decades of federal protections, the gray wolf is back. Paul Sisco reports.
The U.S government has taken the gray wolf off the endangered species list.
After a century of shooting, trapping and poisoning by ranchers to protect livestock, wolves were placed under protection in 1974. Steve Norbit, of the National Wildlife Federation, says, "They are not the bad guy. They are not the savior of the wilderness. They are just an animal trying to figure out how to make a living."
Under protection and reintroduced to former habitats, the gray wolf population has come back. Breeding programs at Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere have proved successful. Now, 30 years later, wolf populations in the midwestern United States have recovered enough to end their protected status.
Without federal protections, it is up to individual states to manage populations. That worries environmentalists such as Bill Snade of the Center for Biodiversity. "Already we've seen the state of Idaho propose a $26 permit fee to hunt wolves. That is right out of the gate. I'm sure we'll see other states follow suit."
Alan Ferguson, from Wyoming, understands the problem. "These wolves don't kill first, they take the animal down and then they just go to feeding. You're running the risk of a lot of wolf derbies, and who knows, maybe extinction again. I don't know."
He has lost cattle to wolves, but still fears state management, allowing them to be hunted. Ferguson adds, "I don't think so. The good Lord meant them to be here."