BROOMFIELD, Colo. (AP) -- An environmental group that successfully campaigned for the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park wants the federal government to do the same in the southern Rockies.
The large expanses of public land and sparse population in the southern Rockies make it an ideal area for gray wolf reintroduction, the Washington, D.C.-based Defenders of Wildlife said Monday. The group also said the move could help bolster wolf recovery nationwide.
''Gray wolves have an important role to play in the biological health and wholeness of the southern Rockies, and it's time for the federal government to get serious about restoring the species here,'' said Roger Schlickeisen, president of the group.
The organization's petition comes as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to reduce federal protection for gray wolves, now classified as endangered. In the West, the predators exist in the Northern Rockies and Arizona.
The federal agency likely will incorporate the petition into public comments and other material to be reviewed as part of the proposal to eventually remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list, spokeswoman Sharon Rose said.
If the agency's proposal were approved, it would fall on states to manage wolves, including any reintroduction programs. Only Mexican wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf released in Arizona, would remain endangered at the federal level.
The southern Rockies encompass western Colorado, and parts of Utah, southern Wyoming, northern New Mexico and Arizona.
Wolves were eliminated from most of their range in the Lower 48 by the early 1900s as a result of widespread slaughter by settlers and organized extermination efforts by the government. It is believed the last wolf was killed in Colorado in 1945.
After years of political and legal wrangling, the Fish and Wildlife Service released Canadian wolves in Yellowstone and central Idaho in 1995.
Agency officials say wolves are flourishing in Yellowstone, Idaho and Montana, and federal protection won't be needed once those populations maintain certain levels. There now are more than 300 animals in the northern Rockies, where 66 were released initially.
On the Net:
Defenders of Wildlife: http://www.defenders.org
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov
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