AP Photo/Yellowstone National Park
A gray wolf runs near Blacktail Pond in Yellowstone National Park. The gray wolf was taken off the endangered species list in Wyoming last week.
The gray wolf, soon to be off the endangered species list in Wyoming, will have a new official title in 86 percent of the state: predator. That means anyone may shoot a wolf on sight, no permit required.
Safe havens do remain in the northwestern corner of the state -- no hunting will be allowed in Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks -- but now conservationists worry that sportsmen will be allowed to take aim at wolves traveling through the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, a 24,000-acre area that connects the two larger parks.
The state of Wyoming wants hunting; the National Park Service does not.
“We want to preserve wildlife for viewing and for conservation," said Bert Frost, associate director for Natural Resource Stewardship and Science for the National Park Service. "We would prefer not to have them shooting wolves on the parkway.”
But here's the catch: The parkway, managed by the National Park Service, has allowed elk hunts to reduce their population. Legislators in Wyoming say that means wolves are also fair game.
Most agree this is a somewhat symbolic argument, as only one or two wolf packs use the parkway. But for many, the gray wolf has come to embody the symbol of the federal government meddling in state affairs.
Among the comments submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the Endangered Species Act, was one from Earl Crawford, a Cheyenne resident, who said, according to the Casper Star-Tribune, "wolves kill to just kill.”
Crawford continued: “Let the state game & fish control and manage the wolf population along with the other game animals of the state. Most bureaucrats back East haven’t the foggiest idea of how life is out west.”
1995: Wolves return to the Rockies
In the early 1900s, bounties were paid on more than 20,000 wolves, viewed then as killers of livestock. Twenty years later, the gray wolf became extinct in the Northern Rockies.
In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service arranged for 66 gray wolves from Canada to be released in Yellowstone and Idaho. The wolves, to the delight of conservationists, repopulated as quickly as they disappeared. Now about 1,650 roam the Rockies.
“The big picture of the whole thing is that the recovery of the gray wolf is one of the most amazing success stories of the Endangered Species Act,” said Derek Goldman of the Endangered Species Coalition.
The plan was so successful that in 2009 the gray wolf was removed from the endangered species list in Montana and Idaho. Wyoming, however, refused to produce a wolf-friendly plan.
“Basically, Wyoming flipped the middle finger to the federal government,” Goldman said.
Despite government promises to repay ranchers for livestock losses, pressure mounted.
Data show that domestic dogs kill more cattle than wolves; weather kills cattle at 25 times the rate of wolves. Mike Jimenez of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that wolves were just one more variable eating at an already small profit margin.
“You have to understand that the ranchers are raising animals by the pound,” said Jimenez, the coordinator for wolf management for the Rocky Mountains. “If they run around, they abort, or they lose weight. The profit margin is not huge to begin with.”
Although wolves were delisted in Montana and Idaho without as much political wrangling, wolf hunting in those two states is as controversial.
In February, U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents killed 14 wolves from an aircraft in Idaho, heeding a request from that state, according to the Missoulian newspaper.
And the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, an organization founded by hunters to promote elk habitat to “be hunted or otherwise enjoyed,” announced it would give $50,000 to help government agencies afford killing wolves that chase after livestock, the Missoulian reported. David Allen, the president of the foundation, said he wants fewer black bears, mountain lions and wolves.
“We can’t have all these predators with little aggressive management and expect to have ample game herds,” Allen told the Missoulian.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead signed a new version of the wolf management plan into law last month. This one demands that Wyoming manage 10 breeding pairs outside of Yellowstone. An area in the northwestern part of the state would protect wolves from Oct. 15 to March 1, so they may breed with wolves from other states and avoid inbreeding.
Whether hunters will be able to take aim at wolves in the parkway is unclear. Hunting is allowed in Alaska national parks, and culling of elk has been allowed in the parkway and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
Back in Washington, D.C., Bert Frost said the National Parks Service has plans to work with the state of Wyoming. He hopes those conversations won’t become politicized.
“I hope nothing gets resolved in Washington,” Frost said. “There are the biologists on the ground, and they know the situation better than anyone else.”
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