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Wyoming wolf battle far from over, as wildlife advocates challenge delisting in federal court

Gray wolves a. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Gray wolves are facing state-sanctioned slaughter in Wyoming. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Lawsuit says state management plan is inadequate

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Wildlife advocates say that, without federal protection, wolves in Wyoming could soon be back on the ropes because of anti-wolf state policy that does little to protect the predators.

Based on those concerns, conservation groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The court heard arguments in the case on Dec. 17, with Earthjustice attorney Tom Preso asking the judge to restore Endangered Species Act protections to gray wolves in Wyoming until state officials develop a stronger wolf conservation plan.

“The extreme hostility toward wolves demonstrated by some who participated in this fall’s Wyoming wolf hunt shows why adequate legal protections are especially important for wolves in Wyoming,” Preso said. “We are asking the court to hold the government accountable for failing to give wolves the protection that the law requires.”

Earthjustice is representing Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity in challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service’s September 2012 decision to strip Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves in Wyoming.

“The questions asked by Judge Jackson at today’s hearing got to the heart of the issue,” said Jason Rylander, senior staff attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot ensure sustainable populations of wolves in Wyoming when the state’s laws allow so much unregulated wolf killing. We are hopeful that the court will agree the decision to remove federal protections for wolves in Wyoming was as unlawful as it was unwise.”

“Wyoming’s kill-at-will policies are a disaster for the hard-fought wolf recovery in the northern Rockies,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s incredibly sad to see Yellowstone’s wolves — wildlife icons around the globe — cut down simply because they cross an invisible line into Wyoming’s killing fields.”

“It’s not only illegal but the height of bad judgment to turn over wolf management to a state which is obviously hell-bent on killing as many wolves as possible,” said Andrew Wetzler, director of NRDC’s Land & Wildlife Program.

The delisting of wolves in Wyoming turned wolf management over to the state, which is promoting unlimited wolf killing across more than 80 percent of Wyoming and providing inadequate protections for wolves in the remainder. Since the delisting, 119 wolves have been killed as a result of Wyoming’s management. The state has a history of hostile and extreme anti-wolf laws and policies, which in the past caused the Fish and Wildlife Service to deny Wyoming the authority to manage wolves in the state.

However, the Service reversed its position in 2012 and delisted wolves in Wyoming after state officials made what conservationists describe as only “cosmetic” changes to the Wyoming wolf-management laws that the Service previously deemed inadequate.

“If allowed to stand, Wyoming’s current wolf management plan will set wolf recovery back decades, and potentially take wolves back to the brink of extinction. Wolves in Wyoming must have federal protection until the state develops a management plan that treats wolves as valued native wildlife, not vermin that can be killed by any means without a license in over 80 percent of the state,” said Bonnie Rice of Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign.

During the period since the Wyoming delisting decision, there have been numerous demonstrations of continuing hostility toward wolves in the state, including an incident this past fall in which one dead wolf was prominently displayed on a vehicle parked in the town square of Jackson Hole, Wyo., and multiple instances of anti-wolf activists photographing dead wolves and brandishing the images on social media sites.

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