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Wolves heading back from brink of extinction

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YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. (AP) — Wolves could clear an important hurdle this year toward their reclassification under the Endangered Species Act, a federal recovery expert said.

Ed Bangs, leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's wolf-recovery effort, said his agency is close to finding 30 breeding pairs of wolves in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

That number must be maintained for three consecutive years before the wolves can be reclassified from "endangered" to "threatened" under a Fish and Wildlife Service proposal. The wolves also must be raising at least two pups to be considered a breeding pair.

Twenty-eight breeding pairs of wolves were counted last year, Bangs said. Poachings and government wolf removal efforts have kept the numbers below the targeted goal.

This year, there is a chance of establishing 30 breeding pairs in the region, and Bangs said that could lead to the reclassification of wolves by 2004.

Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995 and 1996. A reclassification would reduce protection for the animal in much of the West.