BILLINGS, Mont. — Facing mounting pressure from Congress, wildlife advocates and the Department of the Interior yesterday agreed to lift gray wolf protections in Montana and Idaho and allow hunting of the predators.
The settlement agreement — opposed by some environmentalists — is intended to resolve years of litigation that have shielded wolves in the northern Rockies from hunting, even as the predators’ population has expanded.
Terms of the deal were set to be filed in US District Court in Montana. It would keep the species on the endangered list, at least temporarily, in four states where they are considered most vulnerable: Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, and Utah. And it calls for a scientific panel to reexamine wolf recovery goals that set a minimum population level of 300 wolves in the region.
“For too long, wolf management in this country has been caught up in controversy and litigation instead of rooted in science,’’ said Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes.
There are an estimated 1,651 wolves in the region after a restoration effort. The program stirred antipathy toward the predators among western ranchers and hunters, who blame wolves for livestock attacks.
Court rulings blocked efforts by the Bush and Obama administrations to lift wolf protections. But with Western lawmakers threatening to intervene, environmentalists said they wanted to preempt precedent-setting federal legislation. They fear congressional intervention could broadly undermine the Endangered Species Act.