(UK) New threat as wolves make comeback + links December 29, 2005 4:05 PM
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· Protections eased after big increase in numbers
· Environment groups fear backlash by ranchers Julian Borger in Washington
Thursday December 29, 2005
Licences to kill wolves are to be granted by state authorities rather than Washington. Photograph: Staffan Widstrand/Corbis
America's wolves have climbed back from the edge of extinction in the past 10 years to the point where the federal government is about to relinquish responsibility for their protection. But environmentalists say the wolf is not quite out of the woods and warn that the human backlash against the predator has only just begun.
About 5,000 wolves - mainly Canadian greys - now roam the woods of Minnesota and the American west, compared with a population of barely 200 in the mid-90s, before the animals were reintroduced to Yellowstone national park.
The success of that programme has led to the relaxation of some of the animal's protections. The interior department is working on a plan to take it off the threatened species list, and from early January the wolf packs of Idaho and Montana will no longer be wards of Washington but will instead have to rely on the state authorities to keep their enemies at bay.
Those enemies are almost all human. The success of the reintroduction has led to an outcry among western ranchers that the wolf packs represent a threat to their sheep and cattle. Despite official statistics showing the wolves are responsible for a tiny proportion of livestock deaths, and the fact that ranchers are compensated for any such attacks, hunters in the western states are increasingly taking the law into their own hands, shooting wolves on sight or even venturing into the woods to drop poison meatballs.
Environmentalists question whether western states, which represent their overwhelmingly anti-wolf electorates, will have the political willpower to enforce the wolf's legal protections.
Ranchers can get licences to hunt wolves if they can prove they are killing livestock. From January they will be able to get them from state authorities, rather than having to apply to Washington.
US wolf population: (except Alaska)
1994: 200; 2005: about 5,000
Alaska: 7,700-11,200 (estimate)
Attacks: Wolves are believed to have killed a man in Saskatchewan, Canada, last month. If confirmed, it would be the first lethal wolf attack in more than a century.
Sheep deaths caused by wolves: 0.1%
Wolf deaths caused by humans: 90%
Source: International Wolf Centre
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