DENVER (CBS4) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is deciding if gray wolves should remain a protected species in Colorado.

The U.S. Congress already removed the protection of gray wolves in Idaho and Montana and part of the state of Washington. It’s also legal to hunt the wolves in Wyoming.

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In the mid-1990s gray wolves were on the brink of extinction when the Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced 66 of them in Yellowstone National Park. Twenty years later there are more than 1,600 in the northern Rocky Mountains and the feds say it’s time to de-list them as an endangered species.

“I think it’s purely political, it’s definitely not scientific, and it’s certainly not democratic,” Wendy Keefover with Wildearth Guardians said. “Most people want wolves back in Colorado and in the West.”

Keefover says historically wolves populated much of the country and have returned to only a small part of that habitat.

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While Colorado has had three sightings in the last 10 years, including one near Walden, it’s been nearly 80 years since wolves thrived in the state. The government says Colorado could support 1,000 wolves, but it also says the population has recovered to the point states should now be allowed to manage them.

“To not allow farmers and ranchers to be able protect their private properties in case they do come onto their property and attack their herds, it doesn’t make a lot sense,” Dustin Zvonek with Americans for Prosperity said.

Zvonek says it’s a matter of private property and state rights.

Congress has already removed the protective status for the wolves in the states where they now live. If Fish and Wildlife delists them nationwide, Colorado Parks and Wildlife says its plan is to allow them to return to Colorado and handle them on a case-by-case basis.

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LINKS: Wildearth GuardiansAmericans for Prosperity