August 6, 2010

Wildlife Advocates Approve Judge’s Gray Wolf Decision

Wildlife advocates believe that the Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves throughout the Northern Rocky Mountains helps to buy more time to create a better plan than the one the judge rejected.

State wildlife officials in Montana and Idaho reviewed Thursday's ruling, which blocks them from carrying out their wolf management plans and their preparations for wolf hunts this fall.  State officials said they were considering their options, including an appeal.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy's ruling knocked down a U.S. Fish and Wildlife decision last year that kept federal protections in place in Wyoming.

Molloy said that in his ruling, the wolf population must be either listed as an endangered species or removed from the list.  However, the protections for the same population cannot be different for each state.

Molloy ruled that separating the protections may solve a tricky political issue, but it does not comply with the Endangered Species Act.

Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Tom Strickland said the ruling means that the federal protections will be in place for all three states until Wyoming brings its wolf management program into alignment with Idaho's and Montana's.

"Since wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains are now again subject to ESA protection, in the days ahead we will work closely with Idaho and Montana to explore all appropriate options for managing wolves in those states," Strickland said in a statement.

Gray wolves were listed as endangered in 1974, but now there are over 1,700 in the Northern Rockies, which includes Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, along with portions of Washington, Oregon and Utah.

Matt Skoglund of the National Resources Defense Council said a true recovery number would be at least 2,000 wolves in the region.

"We're real close to recovery. We've got 1,700 wolves in the Rockies. But we're not there," Skoglund told the Associated Press (AP). "We want to see a plan in place that ensures genetic connectivity among the subpopulations and ultimately guarantees a sustainable wolf population."

State wildlife officials in Montana and Idaho say they are capable of managing the wolves within their borders, and the population has rebounded.  The increase in the wolf population has brought livestock losses for ranchers and competition for hunters for big game like elk.

Carolyn Sime, wolf program coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told AP that Montana has done everything it has been asked to do in developing its state management program, but now will have to apply federal law and regulations again.

Montana wildlife regulators set the wolf-hunt quota this year at 186 with the goal of reducing the state's wolf population for the first time since they were reintroduced.

"That's clearly a management tool that we want to have in the toolbox. We think it's legitimate and appropriate," Sime told AP reporter Matt Volz.

There were at least 843 wolves in Idaho at the end of 2009, as well as 524 in Montana and 320 in Wyoming, with more in parts of Oregon and Washington state.

Defenders of Wildlife, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the NRDC and other wildlife advocates sued the federal government after the Fish and Wildlife Service decision in April 2009.  They said the government's decision would have set a precedent that allows the government to arbitrarily choose which animals should be protected and where.

Idaho's congressional delegation released a statement saying Molloy's ruling ignored the exploding population of wolves and that the state can manage wolves in a sustainable and responsible way.

"We look for a more reasonable decision from a higher court," the statement from Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Reps. Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick said.

The judge's ruling could affect a lawsuit in which Wyoming claims the Fish and Wildlife Service had no reason to refuse to turn over management of gray wolves to Wyoming as it did to other states.


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