By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Idaho game officials said on Friday they would seek federal approval to kill off hundreds of wolves in their state despite a court ruling that restored protection of the animals under the Endangered Species Act.
In a conference call with reporters, Idaho Fish and Game officials said they remained determined to carry out a plan, nixed by Thursday's court ruling, that calls for reducing Idaho's wolf population by over 40 percent, to 500 from 845.
One wolf pack in particular, a group of 100 animals in northern Idaho, is targeted for reduction by 80 percent.
Montana, the second of two states where the gray wolf was ordered returned to the federal endangered species list, is likely to follow Idaho's lead in seeking permission to thin its wolf packs through licensed sport hunting or government squads of aerial gunners.
Hunting of listed animals for sport is generally forbidden under the Endangered Species Act. But the two states would presumably seek special permits under the statute to allow for limited hunting or culling of wolf packs.
Powerful ranching interests in both states opposed reintroduction of wolves to the region 15 years ago and have continued to resist federal protection of the animals as a threat to livestock. Sportsmen complain wolves are killing too many big-game animals, like elk, that could be hunted instead.
"Our concern is ... we do have livestock depredations ... and we have problems with elk herds," said Idaho Department of Fish and Game Deputy Director Jim Unsworth.
A federal judge in Missoula, Montana, on Thursday sided with conservation groups in ordering the entire Northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves re-listed as endangered.
That ruling overturned an April 2009 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision that had lifted federal wolf protections in Idaho and Montana but kept them in place in Wyoming.
At last count, in December 2009, the gray wolf population in the Northern Rockies, including Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding region, was estimated at 1,700 animals.
Environmentalists say the region's wolf population would have to reach between 2,000 and 3,000 individuals in order to be considered viable by international standards.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Sandra Maler)