After devoting four decades and tens of millions of dollars to saving the gray wolf, the federal government wants to get out of the wolf-protection business.

Wildlife officials want to leave it to individual states to determine the future of the legendary canine predator.

The gray wolf has recovered from near-extinction in the lower 48 states. It now stands at a historical crossroads that could test both its reputation for resilience and the tolerance of ranchers and hunters who bemoan its attacks on livestock and big game.

Since being added to the federal endangered species list in 1974, the American wolf population has grown fivefold — to about 6,200 animals wandering parts of 10 states outside Alaska.

In Montana and Idaho, where wolves can now be legally hunted and trapped, officials are seeking to sharply drive down wolf numbers this winter to curb attacks on farm animals and elk herds.

Associated Press