March 30, 2008

Hunting Season Re-opens for Once-Endangered Gray Wolves

Gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains no longer have immunity to hunters in the region, as the Federal Endangered Species Act protection was removed on Friday.

The news has encouraged environmentalists to draw up plans to sue the federal government next month in hopes of extending the protection of approximately 1,500 gray wolves.

Last month, Lynn Scarlett, Deputy Secretary of the Interior said the gray wolf population was thriving and no longer required the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

"The wolf population in the Northern Rockies has far exceeded its recovery goal and continues to expand its size and range. States, tribes, conservation groups, federal agencies and citizens of both regions can be proud of their roles in this remarkable conservation success story," said Scarlett.

As a result, hunters in Idaho will be allowed to kill 100-300 wolves this fall, according to a plan from the Idaho Fish and Game Commission caused by reports of livestock deaths in the region due to the increasing wolf population. Idaho is now home to approximately 800 gray wolves.

Steve Nadeau, of the Idaho Fish and Game Department, said the agency is taking every possible precaution in ensuring a necessary balance.

"We manage big game for a living, we're good at it," said Nadeau. "The world is watching and we know it."

Cal Groen, director of the department said that the agency has gone well beyond its expected conservation efforts to show it is capable of reviving the wolves' population.

"We've exceeded all the goals the federal government set," Groen said.

There are now 41 breeding pairs of gray wolves in Idaho, according to wildlife biologists. A drop below 10 breeding pairs, or 15 during a three-year period, could reinstate federal protection.

Doug Honnold, a managing attorney for the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice, said a lift of the wolves' federal protection would be "a disaster."

Earthjustice, representing 12 local and national environmental groups, plans to sue the federal government next month in hopes of sustaining wolf protections.

"We've spent a lot of time, money and effort to promote wolf recovery," said Honnold.

Gray wolves became endangered in 1973 due to enormous hunting pressures, but the population recovered after restoration efforts began in 1995.

Gray wolves living outside of the Rocky Mountain and Midwest recovery areas will remain protected under the Endangered Species Act, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


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