The Latest: Wolves resilient, but proposal tests expansion

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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- A proposal to strip gray wolves of federal protections could curtail their rapid expansion across vast swaths of the U.S., yet the predators already are proving to be resilient in states where hunting and trapping occur.

The Interior Department on Thursday declared gray wolves recovered across the Lower 48 states. If finalized, the proposal would allow hunting in more areas.

The species has seen a remarkable turnaround -- from near-extermination to more than 6,000 gray wolves spread across nine states.

Critics say hunts could kill thousands of the animals and prevent their further spread.

But in the Northern Rockies, where legal wolf harvests began a decade ago, the animal's numbers have held relatively steady and packs have expanded west into Oregon, Washington and California.