Court says no hunt in Idaho and Montana this year
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — The tug-of-war over wolf restoration in the Northern Rockies continued last week as a federal judge ruled Aug. 5 that the Interior department erred when it removed the protections of the Endangered Species Act.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved a de-listing plan that was developed by the Bush administration. Conservation and wildlife advocacy groups immediately went to court and sued the government. In the meantime, under state-approved management plan, hunting resumed in Montana and Idaho, were more than 350 wolves — almost 20 percent of the population — were killed in 2009.
The ruling means that scheduled hunts for this fall are cancelled. The judge said that subdividing populations of wild animals based on state boundaries rather than on biological criteria violates the Endangered Species Act.
Federal government officials indicated they think the ruling means that Wyoming has to develop a management plan similar to Idaho and Montana’s before wolves can be de-listed. Conservation advocates hope the ruling will spur the government to adopt a more far-reaching regional plan that truly ensures a sustainable wolf population for the long term.
Defenders of Wildlife, one of the primary groups involved in the long-running battle, called for regional stakeholder collaboration based on the latest available science to ensure continued wolf recovery and, ultimately, removing wolves from the endangered species list when the science shows that populations have recovered.
“This decision is a significant victory for wolves, for the integrity of the Endangered Species Act, and for all Americans who care deeply about conservation. The court’s ruling makes it clear that decisions under the Endangered Species Act should be based on science, not politics,” said Defenders of Wildlife president Roger Schlickeisen.
“Secretary Salazar’s support of the Bush administration’s proposal to remove protections for wolves was premature and clearly inconsistent with the law. Had the federal government prevailed in the lawsuit, real wolf recovery would have been set back for perhaps decades,” he added.
Schlickeisen said the decision would have set a dangerous precedent for management of many other endangered species.
Assistant Secretary of the Interior Tom Strickland said that, despite the ruling, the government considers the wolf recovery program a model for success.
“Today’s ruling means that until Wyoming brings its wolf management program into alignment with those of Idaho and Montana, the wolf will remain under the protection of the Endangered Species Act throughout the northern Rocky Mountains. 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 prepared statement.
“The Service’s decision to delist the wolf in Idaho and Montana reflected the strong commitments from the states of Idaho and Montana to manage gray wolves in a sustainable manner. Today’s ruling makes it clear this wolf population cannot be delisted until the State of Wyoming has instituted an adequate management program, similar to those of Idaho and Montana,” he said.
“In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with the states, tribes, conservation organizations, and ranchers and other landowners to manage wolves and ensure the species continues to thrive and coexist with livestock, other wildlife populations, and people.”
Wolves were eradicated from the region in the 1930s and were killed whenever they wandered across the border from Canada. When the Endangered Species Act became the law of the land in the early 1970s, some of the wolves started to re-establish populations in northern Montana. In 1995 and 1996, 66 wolves were re-located from Canada to Yellowstone National Park.
Since then, the population in the region has grown to about 2,000 animals — the number required for a self-sustaining population, according to scientific estimates. However, the hunting authorized in Idaho and Montana quickly cut the number back down to about 1,650 wolves.
Even after the ruling, state agencies will still be able to manage wolves, including removing problem wolves implicated in livestock conflicts or causing unnatural declines in game species.
“This is the sixth court ruling invalidating removal of Endangered Species Act protections for wolves,” said Michael Robinson, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The ruling will force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revise its overall management plan for the species.
Conservation advocates have continually argued that the federal government must devise a plan that enables wolves to roam across the region to maintain genetic diversity.
Wolves have continued to spread southward through their former range, which includes Colorado. The most recent evidence from private ranches in northwest Colorado suggests that wolves have already established a foothold in the state and will likely increase in numbers.
Writing for High Country News, Michelle Nijhuis reported on the return of the predators to Colorado. Read the story here.
U.S. District Court Ruling on wolves