BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Gray wolves are no longer an endangered species in the United States. The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that decision Thursday, and there was, as expected, a split reaction in Oregon and elsewhere on the long-controversial topic.
Agency officials said the nation's gray wolf population stands at around 6,000 and has a a stable and healthy range. Mexican gray wolves and red wolves are still considered endangered.
Conservation groups said they plan to file lawsuits, stating the decision to delist gray wolves is too early.
One of the groups doing so is the Eugene-based Western Environmental Law Center.
John Mellgren, an attorney with the group, said, "The federal government has basically said there's are enough wolves in the Great Lakes states to suffice for the rest of the country, so it really doesn't matter what's going on in Oregon, Washington or California.."
"And we just think that's wrong," he said. "You have to look at everywhere wolves occur in this country."
Mellgren said wolf populations are not back to their optimum number in areas such as Oregon.
"The science just doesn't say that wolves are recovered in Washington, Oregon, California," he said. "Wolves are still recovering."
On the contrary, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said supports the delisting decision, stating that Oregon's wolf population grew over 15% last year.
The congressman said they've killed livestock, leaving ranchers helpless when it's in areas under federal management.
An official with the Oregon Cattlemen's Association is also applauding the move.
Rodger Huffman , a Union County rancher and the organization's treasurer, gave examples to NewsChannel 21 of ranchers losing livestock to wolves.
"One producer lost so many animals that he had to put a $40,000 electric fence up, with help from all the environmental groups," Huffman said.
He said this move will help the state expand its progressive approach to dealing with wolves, where ranchers can take lethal action now east of Highway 97, if a rancher catches a wolf in the act of killing livestock.
"If you don't do something, they teach the pups that hey, that's their food source," Huffman said. "Then the pups disperse when they get to be a year or two old."
However, he added, the association does not support the complete eradication of the species.