Wolf update: Judge rules that hunts can continue

Gray wolves in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming faced extinction in the 1930s. Today, an estimated 1,600 roam the northern Rocky Mountain area.

There's news today about the on again-off again placement of the gray wolf of the northern Rockies on the Endangered Species List and about wolf hunts planned in two states this fall.

A federal judge in Livingston, Mont., ruled [PDF] that the hunts could go forward. However, he gave the environmental groups challenging the Interior Department's delisting of the wolves some potentially good news, reports The Associated Press:

[Judge Donald] Molloy said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service appeared to have violated the Endangered Species Act when it carved Wyoming out of its decision to lift protections in May for wolves elsewhere in the region.

That suggests environmentalists could prevail in their ongoing lawsuit seeking to restore protections for the predator.

"The service has distinguished a natural population of wolves based on a political line, not the best available science. That, by definition, seems arbitrary and capricious," Molloy wrote in his 14-page ruling.

"In the big picture, this is a win.” said Louisa Willcox, senior wildlife advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council , which had joined other environmental groups – Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, Western Watersheds Project, Wildlands Network, and Hells Canyon Preservation Council -- in suing to reverse the wolves' removal from the Endangered Species List.

“We feel good about the judge’s analysis of the merits of our case," she added. The Department of Interior has clearly missed an opportunity to get this right. We need a national wolf recovery plan, and this piecemeal effort just won’t get us there.”

Some background: As noted by Brad Knickerbocker here and here, environmentalists and the US Fish and Wildlife Service have been at odds for some time on the status of wolves in some Western states, which has seen them placed on the Endangered Species List when they almost became extinct, and then, as numbers of the animals grew to an estimated 1,600, delisted in May of this year -- but not in Wyoming.

With the wolves no longer federally protected, state-sanctioned hunts were planned in Idaho and Montana. According to the AP, the Idaho hunts could decrease the wolf population by about 220 animals. (Since the season opened the first of this month, three wolves have been killed there). Montana's season doesn't open until Sept. 15. Its quota is 75 animals.

These states see the wolves as overabundant and  a nuisance for farmers and ranchers, since they kill livestock. They – and the Interior Department – also say (and Judge Molloy agreed) that the overall population can withstand the reductions that might occur from the hunts.

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