WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. officials say a successful return of once-endangered wolves to Wyoming justifies removing their federal protection, a move criticized by environmentalists.
The removal of gray wolves from the rolls of the Endangered Species Act, to take effect Oct. 1, and their reclassification as predators means Wyoming ranchers and hunters will be allowed to shoot the animals on sight in about 85 percent of the state, ABC news reported.
While under federal protection since 1978, wolf populations have grown across the West, with ranchers complaining of livestock losses to the wolves and repeatedly petitioning the government for permission to kill them.
Besides shooting on sight in about 85 percent of the state, the reclassification means hunting of wolves will be allowed in other areas during seasons regulated by the state.
Environmental groups said they would go to court to fight the de-listing, as they have in the past in previous attempts to change the laws.
"It is premature to de-list wolves until problems with Wyoming's state management are corrected," Connie Wilbert, a field organizer for the Wyoming chapter of the Sierra Club, said.
"This isn't good wildlife management," she said. "There will be no regulation whatsoever on killing wolves in most of the state."
Wolf hunts in Wyoming will remain illegal in Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks.