Wolves Out West Get Back Endangered Species Protection

Donald Molloy, a Montana federal judge, gave wolves all across the northern Rockies back their protection under the endangered species act Thursday, saying the wildlife service’s federal government’s plan that keeps them endangered just in Wyoming was a no-no under the Endangered Species Act.

Wyoming had insisted on killing off wolves to keep deer and elk hunters happy. The decision means the wildlife service will now ask Wyoming to come up with a management plan that’s a little less insane, the Washington Post says.

In 2009 the Fish and Wildlife service delisted the gray wolf in Idaho and Montana, but not Wyoming. Eleven conservation and animal groups sued to overturn that decision, arguing mostly on biology. But the judge took one legal argument from Defenders of Wildlife most seriously, that the Endangered Species Act has elaborate rules about what’s a population and a distinct population and the wildlife service didn’t follow them.

The wildlife service was trying to work out a compromise without turning the wolves over to Wyoming. The feds basically said Wyoming was batshit crazy and couldn’t be trusted not to exterminate wolves a second time. Wyoming would’ve moved wolves straight from endangered to vermin status. Called predators, they could be shot yearround.  The only exception was the Yellowstone area, where it was treated as a trophy game species; wouldn’t want to interfere with the enjoyment of trophy hunters.

The state even passed a law requiring is game department to “aggressively manage” wolves “ to ensure the long-term health and viability of any big game animal herd that is being threatened in this state.” While the law requires the state to respond to a wolf on livestock threat within 48 hours, it’s clear the main purpose is to satisfy elk hunters. “To what extent the gray wolf is negatively impacting big game animal herds, and thereby hunting opportunities,” the state authorized “the use of aerial hunting and hazing by the department and issuance of permits to private landowners to take wolves to protect private property including, but not limited to, livestock and other domesticated animals from wolf depredation.”

The other two main states in the ruling were not so gentle with wolves, either.

Last year Montana’s legal hunters killed 68 wolves; agriculture officials killed 145 as a threat to livestock, ranchers killed another 10, and illegal hunters killed 16. Population was growing by 4% (down from 18% the previous year), so this year Montana wanted to kill 186 wolves out of a population of 543. That’s about one-third. Almost all of Montana’s wolves are on its western border with Idaho and most are near the Canada border.

Idaho passed a resolution last year authorizing hunters to take 220 wolves and to aim bringing the population down to the 2005 levels, that is 518. They now have 843. They want a  40% percent reduction in population, pretty staggering. And again, they are worried about the economic impact on guides to hunters of deer, elk and moose. On the other hard, they are trying a non-lethal control method of keeping wolf packs in a territory by using fake urine scents. So far this year hunters in Idaho have shot 46 wolves and wildlife service 42.

Wyoming's ASCII map of wolf populations. (Read it by thinking of the rectangle as a WY map.)

Idaho and Montana have really aggressive wolf management programs. Wolves are uncommon in Wyoming, only live in the (interesting) western part of the state, even though their historic range covers the state, according to its only wildlife survey.

How nuts does Wyoming have to be not to just match the standards of Idaho or Montana, with a hunt of 30% to 40% of the population? There is a provision in the law that says its conditions don’t go into effect if the law threatens the wolf being relisted. These states all treat wolves as if they just belonged to their residents and that outsiders are welcome to pay big bucks to hunt, but not to comment.

Where to Go See Wolves

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