July 19, 2008

Judge Restores Federal Protection for Gray Wolves

Endangered species protection for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies was restored on Friday by a federal judge, spoiling plans by three different states to hold public wolf hunts in the fall.

A preliminary injunction granted by U.S. District Judge Donald Malloy will restore the protections for the wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
Molloy will eventually decide whether the injunction should be permanent.

An estimated 2,000 gray wolves are said to inhabit the region. In March, they were removed from the endangered species list, following a decade-long restoration effort.

Fearing that wolf numbers would plummet if hunting were allowed, environmentalists sued successfully to overturn the decision. They sought the injunction in the hopes of stopping the hunts and allowing the wolf population to continue expanding.

"There were fall hunts scheduled that would call for perhaps as many as 500 wolves to be killed. We're delighted those wolves will be saved," said attorney Doug Honnold with Earthjustice, who had argued the case before Molloy on behalf of 12 environmental groups.

Molloy ruled that the federal government had not met its standard for wolf recovery, including interbreeding of wolves between the three states to ensure healthy genetics.

Molloy announced in his decision late Friday that genetic exchange has not taken place.

He said hunting and state laws allowing the killing of wolves for livestock attacks would likely "eliminate any chance for genetic exchange to occur."

Ed Bangs, the federal biologist who led the wolf restoration program, defended the decision to de-list wolves as "a very biologically sound package."

Bangs said on Friday that the kind of hunting proposed by the states wouldn't threaten the wolf population.

"We felt the science was rock solid and that the delisting was warranted," he said.

Government attorneys were reviewing Molloy's court order and would decide next week whether to appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Provided that numbers didn't dip below 300, federal and state officials had argued killing some wolves would not endanger the overall population.

They believe with increasing conflicts between wolves and livestock, public hunts were crucial to keeping the natural predators' population in check.