Judge orders protections reinstated for gray wolf

Helena, Montana (AP) – A federal judge has reinstated
protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho, saying the government
made a political decision in removing the protections from just two
of the states where Northern Rocky Mountain wolves roam.

The decision halts wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho this fall.
Montana wildlife regulators last month set the wolf-hunt quota at
186, more than doubling last year’s number, with the aim of
reducing the state’s wolf population.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula said in his ruling
that the entire region’s wolf population either must be listed as
an endangered species or removed from the list, but the protections
for the same wolves can’t be different for each state.

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service turned over wolf
management to Montana and Idaho wildlife officials but left federal
endangered species protections in place for wolves in Wyoming.
There, legislators have approved a plan classifying wolves in most
areas of the state outside the vicinity of Yellowstone National
Park as predators that could be shot on site.

Molloy sided with the wildlife advocates who sued the federal
government, ruling that Endangered Species Act does not allow the
Fish and Wildlife Service to list only part of a species as
endangered, and the federal agency must protect the entire Northern
Rocky Mountain wolf population.

“The rule delisting the gray wolf must be set aside because,
though it may be a pragmatic solution to a difficult biological
issue, it is not a legal one,” Molloy wrote.

Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and
Parks Tom Strickland said the ruling means that the federal
protections will be in place for all three states until Wyoming
brings its wolf management program into alignment with Idaho’s and
Montana’s

“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
statement.

Gray wolves were listed as endangered in 1974, but following a
reintroduction program in the mid-1990s, there are now more than
1,700 in the Northern Rockies, which includes all of Idaho, Montana
and Wyoming, along with portions of Washington, Oregon and
Utah.

Defenders of Wildlife, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and
other wildlife advocates sued the federal government after the Fish
and Wildlife Service decision in April 2009. They argued that the
government’s decision would have set a precedent allowing the
government to arbitrarily choose which animals should be protected
and where.

Doug Honnold, an attorney for EarthJustice representing the
plaintiffs, said he was gratified by the ruling.

“For today, we are celebrating that the approach we thought was
flatly illegal has been rejected. The troubling consequences for
the Endangered Species Act have been averted and the wolf hunts are
blocked,” Honnold said.

Environmentalists don’t want wolves on the endangered species
list forever, but they do want a solid plan in place, said Suzanne
Stone, Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife.
The government’s plan was poorly devised and would have allowed too
many wolves to be killed, she said.

“We need a good wolf management and delisting that allows for a
healthy interconnected wolf population,” Stone said.

Meanwhile, state wildlife officials in Montana and Idaho were
reviewing the ruling. State officials said they were considering
their options, including an appeal.

The increase in the wolf population brought livestock losses for
ranchers and competition for hunters for big game, such as elk.
Molloy’s decision means ranchers in northwestern Montana will no
longer be able to haze, harass or kill wolves that prey on their
livestock.

At the end of 2009, there were at least 843 wolves in Idaho, 524
in Montana and 320 in Wyoming, with more in parts of Oregon and
Washington state.

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