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Is wolf hunting legal?

Wolf Management and Protection
For the moment, wolves are still protected in the lower 48 states, but as populations surge, the debate over hunting continues to rage.
For the moment, wolves are still protected in the lower 48 states, but as populations surge, the debate over hunting continues to rage.
William F. Campbell/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Currently in North America, it is only ­legal to hunt wolves in Alaska and Canada, where wolf populations have remained steady. Alaska has between 7,000 and 11,000 wolves roaming the land, the largest number in the United States, so the state has never had to put its wolves on the endangered species list. Classified as both big game and furbearers, licensed hunters can legally trap and hunt wolves in Alaska; the state also uses the controversial method of aerial hunting in its wolf control programs, which involves tracking wolves on the ground and in helicopters to find and shoot them [source: Alaska Department of Fish and Game]. For a fee, guides also offer personalized hunting trips. Canada hosts the world's largest wolf population of about 50,000, and hunters typically hunt wolves that stray from the borders of national parks.

In the lower 48 states, however, the issue has become significantly more complicated in recent years. After officials reintroduced wolves into the Yellowstone region, the story of their quick population burst was trumpeted as a success. On March 28, wolves were removed from the list of federally protected species in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. As always, people were allowed to kill wolves that attacked either a person or livestock -- in fact, several had been destroyed in Idaho and Montana throughout the reintroduction phase because of concerns over livestock decimation [source: Wilkinson].

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service caused outrage among environmentalists, however, when it gave states the right to allow the hunting of wolves in what it called "non-essential" populations -- larger groups of wolves that might be taking down too many elk or deer. Many feared the northwest and its wolf population would end up right back where it was in 1974, especially because the three states planned wolf trophy hunting seasons for the fall of 2008.

After much public outcry and a lawsuit to overturn the decision to delist, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy gave protection back to the wolves in July 2008. Molloy argued that the government hadn't met standards for a full wolf population recovery, noting that successful interbreeding between wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming hadn't taken place. The FWS followed up in September 2008 by reversing its delisting rule, although public debate will most likely continue as wolf populations increase and officials study the impact of wolves in a more developed West.

For lots more information on wolves and wolf hunting, see the links on the next page.