Protection Eased for Gray Wolves

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service eased federal protection for gray wolves yesterday, a move made possible by its effort to reintroduce the predator to the West.

The switch from "endangered" to "threatened" applies to wolves in most areas of the country. While threatened species are still protected by the government, the lower status, among other things, could allow ranchers to kill wolves caught attacking their livestock.

The service estimated that there are 664 wolves in 44 packs in northwestern Montana, Idaho and in and around Yellowstone National Park. There are an estimated 2,445 gray wolves in Minnesota, 323 in Wisconsin and 278 in Michigan.

Interior IG Clears Agency Officials

The Interior Department inspector general has concluded that agency officials involved in an October decision supporting a proposed open-pit gold mine in Southern California were not improperly influenced by past associations.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who opposes the proposed Glamis Imperial Project, charged in a letter to Inspector General Earl E. Devaney that there were "troubling questions" about the process. She said Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton and Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles previously represented mining interests; Norton counsel Ann Klee is married to John Macleod, chairman of Crowell & Moring, the law firm that represents Glamis; and Rebecca W. Watson, assistant secretary of land and minerals management, once worked for the same firm.

In reply, Devaney said that the officials' conduct "was appropriate, that their decisions are supported by objective documentation, and that no undue influence or conflict of interest affected the decision-making process related to the Imperial Project."

For the Record

* The inspector general of the Energy Department criticized the handling of the $1 billion program to refurbish the nuclear warheads carried on U.S. air- and sea-launched cruise missiles and some bombs. Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman said the project to modernize and extend the life of the W-80 warheads had fallen behind schedule because of equipment and test delays and the failure to complete needed facilities at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

* Yasser Arafat remains in control of Palestinian security, but the creation of the post of prime minister is a positive move, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said after the Palestinian legislature created the post and Arafat signed the legislation. Arafat tried to make the post an extension of himself, Powell said, but the legislators rejected the move.

* Republicans failed for a third time to break a Senate filibuster on federal judicial nominee Miguel Estrada, but they said they will continue to require Democrats to vote to keep the Hispanic lawyer off the bench. Senate Republicans, with a 55 to 45 vote, did not get the 60 votes they needed to move to a final confirmation vote on Estrada, who has been named to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Compiled from reports by staff writers Eric Pianin and Walter Pincus and by the Associated Press