With wolves coming off federal assistance, they will soon become prey again—so officials, hunters, and wildlife activists are sniping at each other before the hunt begins, the Washington Post reports. "It’s hard to fathom that you can be deserving of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act on September 30 and on October 1 be open fire," says an activist. But officials say wolf-hunting is necessary now that America's wolf population has grown to roughly 6,000 (plus thousands more in Alaska) after 39 years as an endangered species.
The director of Fish and Wildlife admits that people "don’t like the idea of animals being shot," but says that "if you look at the Endangered Species Act, it’s not an animal protection act." Ranchers are applying further pressure, saying wolves attack or upset cattle. But scientists note that wolves are key to the ecosystem—eating leaf-munching elk at Yellowstone National Park, for example, which helps aspen trees thrive. Instead of saving wolves from extinction, officials should consider "how many wolves would it take for them to be effective at influencing the ecosystem," says an ecologist.