BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Federal officials say a record 1,645 gray wolves counted in the Northern Rockies this winter shows the predators' population remains strong, but is no longer expanding as rapidly as in past years.
Since their reintroduction to the region in the mid-1990s, wolf numbers had previously grown on average by 24 percent annually in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Ed Bangs says this year's figure is up only 8 percent. Bangs says that signals that wolves have filled most of the prime habitat in the three states.
Federal officials in January declared the region's wolves were ready to come off the endangered species list. Environmental and animal rights groups have vowed to challenge that decision in court.
This story first appeared in the Associated Press on March 17, 2009