The Associated Press

BRAINERD, Minn. — Federal officials are weighing testimony from farmers, ranchers, hunters and wildlife advocates at the only public hearing in the country on the latest attempt to take gray wolves off the endangered and threatened species list.

The proposal would return management of the predators to the states, potentially subjecting them to hunting and trapping. There are now more than 6,000 gray wolves in nine states. Minnesota has the most at more than 2,650.

“The reason we keep species listed is because we want to protect species from going extinct. Wolves are not even close to that,” said Lori Nordstrom, an assistant regional director with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Supporters of keeping the protections said removal is premature. They said recovery in the Northwest and the Rockies is just beginning.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has made several attempts to take wolves off the list, only to be reversed in the courts. Environmental groups have pledged another court challenge. The agency will make a final decision by mid-March.