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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to take the gray wolf in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana off the Endangered Species List. That's good news and bad news for the wolf.

On the positive side, the agency's proposal means wolf reintroduction has been successful in those states, to the point their numbers exceed recovery goals.

The down side, for wolves and Western ecosystems, is that under delisting, management of wolf packs would be turned over to the states. And state governments, influenced mostly by ranchers but also by misinformed hunting groups, are less interested in preserving wolf populations than in reducing their numbers to the fewest that the federal agency will tolerate.

Gray wolf reintroduction in the Rockies is an amazing success story, since wolves were not merely endangered in the West prior to 1995, when breeding pairs were loosed in Yellowstone National Park. They were extinct.

Viewed as troublesome varmints, they had been eradicated by bounty hunters, ranchers and wolf-haters. The last one was killed very early in the 20th century. It was as if human predators wanted sole claim to the top of the food chain. But that didn't work very well.

In Yellowstone and elsewhere, the natural ecosystem was disrupted; elk herds grew too large and elk died of malnutrition and disease. Vegetation became overgrown and watersheds were damaged. When the wolves returned, so did healthy watersheds and ecosystems.

But even in the new West, blind hostility toward wolves survives. Some attitudes seem mired in 19th century superstition and myth, despite sound science that proves the value of wolves in nature and debunks the fear that wolves are somehow a danger to humans.

No one disputes that wolves kill some cattle and sheep, but compensation is available to ranchers for wolf depredations.

Wolves should be allowed to roam throughout their former range, instead of being "managed" so that they occupy only very small habitats. To remove them prematurely from federal protection, before states agree to protect them and not merely prosecute them to near-extinction again, would be foolish.

Man can afford to move aside and allow wolves their natural place as top predator in what remains of the wild. To fail in that would be unfair to the wolves and destructive to the world we share with them.

Wolves should be allowed to roam throughout their former range, instead of being "managed" so that they occupy only very small habitats.