July 21, 2008

U.S. Judge Again Bars Hunting of Yellowstone Wolves

By Felicity Barringer

Gray wolves in the greater Yellowstone area of the northern Rocky Mountains, which would have been fair game for hunters in three states as a result of a U.S. government decision in March, have again been put under the protections of the Endangered Species Act by a judge in Montana.

The action by the judge, Donald Molloy of U.S. District Court, took the form of a preliminary injunction Friday and could be reversed. But Molloy's language showed serious reservations about the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to remove endangered species protections for the wolves.

Environmental groups, including Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club, which sued the Interior Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service on behalf of the wolves, convinced Molloy that there was a possibility of irreparable harm to the species if hunts had been allowed.

The states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming; the National Rifle Association; and a variety of hunting and cattlemen's associations intervened on the U.S. government's behalf.

The judge said the decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service last year to approve Wyoming's plans for maintaining just eight breeding pairs instead of the 15 the U.S. government once required was "problematic." He added that the decision, which ran counter to the U.S. government's earlier rejection of the Wyoming plan, "represents an agency change of course unsupported by adequate reasoning."

Doug Honnold, a lawyer for Earthjustice, said in an e-mail message: "This is great news for wolves. All three states had plans to allow hunts this fall; 500 wolves were scheduled to be killed." Spokesmen for the Interior Department could not be reached for comment.

Eric Keszler, spokesman for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said, "Obviously we are disappointed in the decision," which he said had not yet been fully reviewed. "We're confident that Wyoming's wolf management plan is adequate to maintaining a recovered wolf population in the state."

The fate of wolves has been the subject of litigation since they were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995.

Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.

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