WASHINGTON — Reps. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, have signed onto legislation that would allow the Western states to manage the now-recovered gray wolf populations themselves.

Both congressmen are cosponsoring HR 6028, sponsored by Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, which prohibits the treatment of the gray wolf as an endangered or threatened species.

"Federal wolf recovery experts have said that the reintroduction of the gray wolf is a success," Matheson said in a news release. "It's time to let state wildlife professionals do their job and balance the needs of predator and prey to maintain a healthy balance."

Wildlife biologists estimate there are 1,700 wolves in several Western states, according to a statement from Chaffetz.

Matheson said a diverse group of scientists and sportsmen groups have studied and documented that not only have gray wolves recovered, their numbers have caused a dramatic drop in elk, deer and moose populations, hurting hunting opportunities and — as a result — harming rural economies that rely on money spent by sportsmen in the West.

"This is a vital issue to farmers, ranchers, sportsmen and outdoor recreationists," Chaffetz said in a statement. "It is appropriate to have the wolf delisted at this time."

Matheson said the legislation is partially a response to legal challenges by some environmental groups who have argued the gray wolf should not be removed from the Endangered Species Act until it has been re-established in all 50 states.

— Joseph M. Dougherty