MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- They are Minnesota's iconic image of wilderness, as well as a successful restoration story.
Now, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service says gray wolves should be removed from the Endangered Species Act.
Past attempts to strip that protection and give management to the states were stopped by legal challenges, but a new proposal is up for federal review.
Both sides of the issue were discussed in a hearing in Hudson, Wisconsin on Friday.
"Wolves have recovered to the point where we can declare this a success story," said Charles Wooley of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Admired by wildlife lovers, feared by ranchers, gray wolves have long galvanized public opinion.
"Going out there and hearing the cows trying to fight to keep the wolves off of your calves is not only sickening, it's very disheartening to your operation, and even your ability to want to continue to farm," said Douglas County farmer Mark Liebart.
Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson is weighing support, hearing pros and cons of a proposal to remove protection from gray wolves.
"Nobody wants to see the gray wolf endangered, and Minnesotans and Wisconsinites can do the best job managing that population," Johnson said.
Thirty years ago there were just 14 wolves in Wisconsin. Today, there are more than 900 -- nearly three times the recovery target. Others call state management plans inadequate.
"We are opposed to the rule to delist wolves for the singular reason that state governments across the lower 48 [states] are not prepared to manage wolves in the absence of federal protection," said Jody Habusch-Sinykin of Sierra Club's Wisconsin chapter.
Written opinions are due May 14 with a final decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service expected next March.
"Wolves do have a role to play in our wild societies, but are creating unwanted and unacceptable damage to livestock, family pets, and in some verified cases, human endangerment," said Jesse Espeseth of Wisconsin Sporting Dog.
Minnesota's wolf population is estimated at over 26-hundred across the northern third of the state.
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