Wolf backers score win

Staff report

Montpelier, Vt. (AP) — In what environmentalists hailed as a
major victory, a federal judge last month ordered the Bush
administration to step up efforts to restore the gray wolf to
Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.

“The wolves are howlin'” in celebration, Patrick Parenteau,
director of the environmental law clinic at Vermont Law School,
said with a laugh. Parenteau, lead attorney in the case, said his
students “did all the hard labor in the case. It’s a nice victory
for our students.”

Judge J. Garvan Murtha, sitting in the U.S. District Court for
Vermont, found that the Department of the Interior violated federal
law in 2003 when it issued a rule saying no further efforts to
restore the wolf were needed.

Efforts to restore wolves have been successful in Minnesota,
Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, as well as in the
northern Rocky Mountains. The 2003 rule moved wolves in those
regions from endangered to threatened. The government also wanted
to lump the upper Midwest states in with the Northeast in a new,
21-state eastern region, and declare that enough had been done to
restore wolf populations throughout the eastern United States.

As it issued that rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service signaled
that it soon would move to “delist” the wolf in the eastern part of
the country, meaning it no longer would be protected under the
Endangered Species Act.

The public comment period recently closed on another rule that
would do just that, Parenteau said, adding that the ruling likely
would result in that proposed rule being changed or scrapped.

Anthony Tur, a Fish and Wildlife Service field officer based in
Concord, N.H., said the agency’s headquarters in Washington would
decide whether to appeal the ruling.

He questioned the push to build gray wolf populations in the
Northeast on two fronts, saying it wasn’t clear that the public
would support such a move and that there was dispute in the
scientific community about whether gray wolves ever populated the
region.

“There’s some scientific argument about whether or not the wolf
that was originally here in eastern United States was a gray wolf
or whether it was a red wolf,” Tur said. “There’s scientific
support in thinking it was a red wolf, not a gray wolf.”

In his decision, Murtha wrote that the Fish and Wildlife Service
“simply cannot downlist or delist an area that it previously
determined warrants an endangered listing because it ‘lumps
together’ a core population with a low to nonexistent population
outside the core area.”

If the government had prevailed, Parenteau said, “the only
wolves that would exist in the eastern United States would be those
wolf populations in the upper Great Lakes. That’s what the final
rule (put out by the Fish and Wildlife Service) said and that’s
what we challenged.”

Environmental groups, including the National Wildlife
Federation, Vermont Natural Resources Council, Maine Wolf
Coalition, Environmental Advocates of New York and Maine Audubon
Society, joined in the lawsuit. They argued that good wolf habitats
exist in northern Maine and in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, and
that northern Vermont and New Hampshire likely would become an
important corridor for wolves migrating between those two
habitats.

“While wolves are an Endangered Species Act success story in the
Great Lakes and Northern Rockies, the administration wanted to
declare total victory based on these partial wins,” Peggy
Struhsacker, program manager for National Wildlife Federation’s
wolf recovery team, said in a statement. “The administration was
ready to announce the marathon over when the finish line is still
over the next hill.”

Even if the government is slow to promote reintroduction of the
animals in the Northeast, it appears wolves may be moving into the
region on their own.

Parenteau said wolves are already known to be roaming just north
of the border in parts of Quebec between the St. Lawrence River and
the United States. He said there have been several sightings in
northern New England, though the veracity of some is in dispute. He
also said a large male wolf was killed by a hunter in New York
state last year.

John Kostyack, lawyer for the National Wildlife Federation,
called the ruling a “major victory for wolves and for all the
people who care so much about preserving America’s natural
heritage.”

Kostyack and Parenteau both said wolves are important predators
at the top of the food chain that could help to keep burgeoning
moose and beaver populations in check and help to run noisome
coyotes out of the north woods.

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