March 8, 2009

Gray Wolves To Be Off Endangered List In Some States

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Friday that he was upholding a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove gray wolves from the federal endangered list in the western Great Lakes and the Northern Rockies.

President Obama had ordered a review of the decision made by the Bush administration shortly before he left office. 

Management of the wolves will now fall to state agencies in Idaho, Montana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah. 

However, the predators will remain a federally protected species in Wyoming, Salazar said, because the state's law and management plans are inadequate to protect the animals.

Wolves elsewhere in the continental U.S. will remain on the endangered list.

Salazar said the wolves' strong comeback in the Northern Rockies and the western Great Lake regions, which together have a population of nearly 5,600 wolves, justified his conclusion to drop the animal from the endangered list in these areas.

"The recovery of the gray wolf throughout significant portions of its historic range is one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act," an Associated Press report quoted Salazar as saying.

In the past, courts have overturned attempts to remove the wolf from the endangered list, and future legal battles seem likely.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) questioned the move and pledged to investigate whether Salazar's decision is consistent with the Endangered Species act.  Boxer, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, said her staff would work to determine whether the move was in keeping with the "letter and the spirit" of the law.

Environmental groups also pledged to initiate a lawsuit over the estimated 1,600 wolves in the Northern Rockies.  Last year, a federal judge in Missoula, Montana ruled in favor of the groups after they filed a lawsuit saying the wolves' long-term survival remained at risk, especially in Wyoming.

In January of this year, the government came back with its plan to exclude Wyoming.

"What we had hoped was the new administration would have taken a deep breath and evaluate the science," Jamie Rappaport Clark, vice president of Defenders of Wildlife and a former Fish and Wildlife Service director in the Clinton administration, told the Associated Press.

"Whether it's (Bush Interior Secretary Dirk) Kempthorne or Secretary Salazar, the concern remains the same," she said.

"It's the same plan that I fear doesn't protect the wolf's long-term sustainability."

Wyoming's attorney general has said his state would likely challenge the latest plan in court, according to the AP report.
Wyoming, which had sought a "predator zone" covering roughly 90 percent of the state where wolves could be shot on sight, has not yet reached an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a protection plan.

"The scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service do not feel the recovery plan is adequate in Wyoming," said Salazar, adding that his
department would work with the state to "come up with a joint way forward."

The northern Rocky Mountain wolf region includes all of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, as well as the eastern third of Washington and Oregon and a small area in north-central Utah.

Idaho and Montana have already formulated plans for public hunts to control wolf populations.  In the western Great Lakes, which have roughly 4,000 wolves, there are no immediate plans for hunts.

On Friday, Idaho Governor C.L. Butch Otter repeated his wish to be the first in his state to get the wolf hunting tag so he can try to shoot one of the wolves.

"The fish and game population is really counting on a robust population of trophy animals to maintain that part of our economy," he said.


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