Wildlife: Wolves under siege in the northern Rockies

Lawsuit filed to prevent wolf slaughter in Wyoming

Gray wolf. Photo courtesy USFWS.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal wolf management in the northern Rockies will once again be tested in court, as conservation groups this week filed a lawsuit claiming that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by handing management of the species to the state.

The state’s wolf management policy allows almost unlimited wolf killing much of the state in a designated predator zone and doesn’t adequately protect wolves even where killing is regulated. The lawsuit alleges Wyoming’s policy will result in wolf deaths that undermine the recovery of the species. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“Wyoming’s anti-wolf policies take the state backward, to the days when wolf massacres nearly wiped out wolves in the lower 48 states. Our nation rejected such predator extermination efforts when we adopted the Endangered Species Act,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has turned its back on Wyoming wolves, and so today we are asking the court to make sure that wolves on the border of Yellowstone … have the protections they need to thrive.”

“Wyoming’s wolf-management plan is poor policy, weak in its protection of wolves, and based on flimsy science,” said Franz Camenzind, a retired Ph.D. wildlife biologist who lives in the Jackson Hole area.

Since Wyoming took over wolf management Oct. 1, 2012, at least 49 wolves have been killed through state-sanctioned hunting and unregulated killing in Wyoming’s “predator” zone; the actual number is likely higher because of delayed or neglected reporting of kills. Before Wyoming took over wolf management, the state’s wolf population numbered only 328 wolves at last count.

Last year Congress gave hunters and trappers in Montana and Idaho the right to kill wolves that had been protected under the Endangered Species Act, nullifying a court victory won by Earthjustice that would have prevented the hunts.

During the 2011-2012 hunting season, hunters and trappers killed 545 wolves in Montana and Idaho. Both states eliminated their statewide quotas for wolf killing in the 2012-2013 hunting season, opening the door to even higher wolf mortality. After just over one month of hunting and trapping in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, 177 wolves have been killed.

The USFWS in the past denied Wyoming the authority to manage wolves due to the state’s extreme anti-wolf laws. Despite what today’s lawsuit calls only “cosmetic” changes to those wolf-management laws, the agency has now reversed its position.

“The administration needs to be held accountable for its decision to allow the senseless and unnecessary killing of wolves in Wyoming,” said Mike Senatore, vice president of conservation law for Defenders of Wildlife. “The American people didn’t invest their hard-earned tax dollars into wolf recovery just so these important animals could be treated like vermin and killed on sight. We can’t allow states like Wyoming to continue to undermine one of our nation’s greatest Endangered Species Act success stories.”

Now that Fish and Wildlife has eliminated federal protections, wolves in Wyoming’s expansive “predator” zone may be shot, snared or trapped; killed from helicopters and airplanes; and pursued on four-wheelers and snowmobiles. Wolf pups may be killed in their dens.

“Taking Endangered Species Act protections away from Wyoming’s wolves is a disaster not only for the state’s wolves but for the possible return of wolves to Colorado and other parts of the West,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity.  “The decision to remove protections for Wyoming’s wolves failed to rely on best science. It’s a tragic political intrusion into what should be the scientifically guided management of an important endangered species.”

Earthjustice represented Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club in this action.

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