BOISE, Idaho, Jan. 3 -- Idaho and Montana will get more authority to manage gray wolves under a new rule adopted by the federal government, wildlife officials announced Monday.
The rule, which takes effect Feb. 2, gives the states and private landowners more control in curbing wolf attacks on livestock, domestic animals and wild game herds.
Ed Bangs, wolf recovery team leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the new rule would especially help private landowners by allowing wolves to be killed without prior written approval if ranchers can prove the animals are harassing livestock.
"Under the old rule, the wolf had to have its teeth in the livestock," Bangs said. "Under the new rule, it has to be a foot away, chasing them."
Wolf kills still must be backed by physical evidence, such as bitten livestock or broken fences and trampled vegetation, Bangs said.
The agency reintroduced the gray wolf into central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in 1995. The wolves have thrived and now exceed the population goals set by wildlife officials, with about 825 animals living in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
But before the wolves can be removed from protections under the Endangered Species Act, each of the three states must have management plans approved by the federal government.
Idaho and Montana plans have been approved, but Wyoming's was rejected and that state is suing. The wolves cannot be removed from the endangered species list until that dispute is resolved.
Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton told a telephone news conference that the new rule reflected the plans of Idaho and Montana. It also gives the states more authority to kill wolves that are reducing big game herds.
Bangs said the new federal guidelines would likely "result in removing about 10 percent of the population, which is still well within what the population is able to stand."
Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R) said the rule was a welcome change.
"The old rule . . . was written to protect 25 to 40 wolves when they were initially reintroduced. The dynamic has changed, so management must also change," Kempthorne said.