WASHINGTON -- Two conservation groups are calling on the federal government to restore gray wolves to Washington state, saying it's time to ''hear the call of the wild again'' in Western Washington forests.
Defenders of Wildlife and the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance said Wednesday they have sent a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, requesting that the agency restore and protect gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act.
''Gray wolves have an important role to play in the ecological health and character of the Pacific Northwest, and the federal government should start getting serious about restoring the species here,'' said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. ''It's time to hear the call of the wild again in these beautiful forests.''
The petition urges the service to establish a category known as a distinct population segment for gray wolves in Washington state.
''The wolf and the Pacific Northwest co-evolved. It is as much a thread in the fabric of our ecosystems as the salmon and the grizzly. We must seek to recover wolves wherever suitable habitat exists for the sake of the species and these ecosystems'', said Joe Scott, conservation director of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance.
Joan Jewett, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland, Ore., said Wednesday she had not seen the petition, but that the agency would review it upon receipt.
''Any sort of petition like this requires a formal review process, and that takes some time,'' she said.
The gray wolf is listed as endangered in all lower 48 states except Minnesota, where it is listed as threatened. The species has been successfully reintroduced in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The Mexican wolf has been reintroduced in the southwestern United States near the Mexican border.
Two years ago, Defenders of Wildlife petitioned federal officials to restore the gray wolf to the Southern Rockies, and petitioned in April 2001 for restoration in California. Those petitions are pending.
Officials at the Fish and Wildlife Service believe the gray wolf has met the necessary three-year population targets that will allow the agency to consider a petition to change its classification from endangered to threatened as soon as next year. Such an action would remove many protections now in place.
About 260 gray wolves are believed to be living in Idaho, while Wyoming has about 218 wolves and Montana 85.
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