Wolf Rules Rile Ranchers, Wildlife Advocates

The gray wolf's recovery has been an incredible comeback story for some but a major headache for others.

Now, as the wolves are about to lose some of their legal protections, there's plenty of people worrying on both sides.

The gray wolf (search) went from being nearly extinct 10 years ago in the northern Rockies to a current population of more than 800 roaming in the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Over the last decade, this predator, which sits on top of the food chain, has been so protected that ranchers could only kill a wolf when it was on their property and engaged "in the act of killing" livestock.

That changes in a couple of weeks, ranchers will now be able to kill wolves on public or private land for just "threatening" sheep and cattle.

Wildlife advocates say "de-listing" the animal is the ultimate goal, but they worry that some will view these relaxed rules as open season on wolves.

"If the decline in wolves is great, if there's a slaughter going on," said Roy Farrar, president of the Wolf Education and Research Center (search) in Lewiston, Idaho, "of course everybody is going to step back in. That's not the intent."

But ranchers say the rule change doesn't go far enough. They've watched as the multiplying wolf packs have killed hundreds of cows, well over 1,000 sheep and scores of wild-game animals such as deer and elk.

Weiser, Idaho, sheep rancher Harry Soulen lost more than 300 sheep last year alone, costing him some $50,000.

"I think these damn wolves ought to be treated just like coyotes," said Soulen. "When you see them out there, you should be able to take care of the problem, shoot 'em, get rid of them any way you can."

Click in the video box above to watch a report by FOX News' Dan Springer.