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New Wolf Protection Strategy

      National Wildlife Federation Applauds New Wolf Strategy
      U.S. Newswire
     WASHINGTON, June 29 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Having led the fight to secure
     Endangered Species Act protection for wolves and use it to restore 
     their populations nationwide, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) 
     -- the nation's largest private conservation group -- is applauding 
     new federal plans to enhance species management flexibility in some 
     areas and step up restoration efforts in others.
     "These plans represent a win for wolves and a win for common sense,"
     said NWF President Mark Van Putten. "That the time has come to discuss
     de-listing and down-listing is proof positive that the Endangered
     Species Act is working."
     Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
     Director Jamie Clark announced plans to create a wide-ranging new wolf
     strategy today during a Forest Lake, Minn., news conference, with Van
     Putten by their side. In his biggest acknowledgment to date of
     Endangered Species Act (ESA) successes for wolves, the secretary 
     stated that wolves in the Great Lakes region have reached recovery 
     goals and can probably be de-listed. He and Clark announced plans to 
     draft a proposal that would "de-list," or completely remove from 
     federal ESA protection, wolf populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and 
     Michigan. Wolf recovery in these states has been tremendously 
     successful, with populations growing from 600 to 2,500 animals. 
     De-listing would give the states and Native American tribes primary 
     responsibility for keeping the recovery going.
     In the Rocky Mountain West, the new plans call for "down-listing" 
     wolves from endangered to threatened in acknowledgment of their 
     comeback under ESA protections. The impact of the reclassification 
     will be largely the same as the 1995 designation of reintroduced 
     wolves in Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho as "experimental 
     populations" -- a move encouraged by NWF, and which allowed the effort 
     to overcome opposition and become one of America's great wildlife 
     success stories. Like the experimental designation, threatened status 
     will give federal and state wildlife authorities greater flexibility 
     in tailoring common-sense management plans to meet the needs of both 
     wildlife and local people, while maintaining basic wolf protections. 
     "Greater flexibility means a better chance for people and wolves to 
     co-exist," said Van Putten.
     NWF cautioned that it will need to carefully review the "fine print" 
     to ensure that nothing in state or federal plans could undermine the 
     health or recovery of wolf populations. Assuming that adequate state 
     funding and will are present to keep recovery progressing, the 
     organization supports both the down-listing and de-listing initiatives 
     as "big steps in the right direction."
     "These changes amount to the Endangered Species Act keeping its
     promise," said Van Putten. "Federal management took the wolves from
     critical condition to recovery and now it's time to let the folks back
     home take over and keep them healthy. That's how the Act is supposed 
     to work."
     Success stories in-the-making involving existing recovery plans for 
     Red and Mexican wolves will proceed unchanged. But in a new 
     initiative, the Interior Department's plans call for stepped-up 
     exploration of wolf recovery options in the Northeast, focusing on the 
     remote areas of the Adirondacks and the North Woods.
     "It's exciting to see a new emphasis on restoring the wildlife 
     heritage of the Northeast," commented Tom France, who heads NWF's 
     legal efforts at wolf restoration. "The howl of the wolf has been gone 
     from there for too long."
     NWF and its independent state affiliates have played a long and
     important role in wolf restoration efforts nationwide, both in helping
     to tailor common sense management plans to secure wolf recovery and in
     educating the public concerning facts and myths surrounding the 
     animals. Once the plans are formalized, an extensive public comment 
     period will follow, with much criticism expected from both sides of 
     the endangered species debate. Opponents will battle over charges that 
     the moves provide either inadequate or too much protection for the 
     wolves. Federal involvement will be another expected hot point, with 
     differing sides squaring off over boosting or lessening the federal 
     "This strategy strikes just the right balance, providing what good
     science and good sense demand," said Van Putten. "Recovery efforts 
     will get the focus, the flexibility and the increased public support 
     they need to keep working. And wolves get a shot at a future off of 
     the endangered list."