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Feds About To Toss Wolves To The Hunters

The Associated Press reports that the federal government will abandon its protections for Wyoming wolves by August 31—if not sooner—leaving the wolf’s fate in the hands of the “Cowboy State.”

This has wolf supporters worried.

The state plans to immediately allow wolves to be killed at any time by most any means in about 85 percent of the state, no license required … and they can kill as many wolves as they want. The other 15 percent of the state won’t be much friendlier. There, hunters will need a license to kill wolves, unless they plan to kill wolves on the pretense of protecting property. Again, such killing is unlimited.

January catch of Forest Service hunter T.B. Bledsaw, Kaibab National Forest, circa 1914.
The Obama Administration is finalizing a plan that throws most of Wyoming back to the days when wolf massacres nearly wiped out wolves in the lower-48 states. Don’t let history be repeated. Take action today!
(Arizona Historical Society)

These conditions are almost identical to those under which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refused to transfer wolf management to the state five years ago. Wolf supporters are asking, what has changed? There are no good answers.

Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine was quoted in the same AP story, saying handing authority over the wolves to the state of Wyoming will draw a legal challenge. That’s because the Endangered Species Act, which currently protects the wolves, only allows a “delisting” if the certain conditions are met, including a biologically recovered population of animals and the existence of adequate state protections to assure those animals don’t fall back down the population curve that endangered them in the first place. In Wyoming, these conditions won’t be met.

Under Wyoming law, wolves could once again spiral towards extinction. After shooting, poisoning or trapping wolves to eliminate them from 85 percent of the state, Wyoming law would allow the remaining wolves to be killed if they found “harassing” livestock or pets. Some in Wyoming have openly discussed staking pet dogs outside to lure wolves in so they can be killed.

Many of those responsible for the anti-wolf policies in Wyoming today basically wish for the return of the days when virtually no wolves occupied the northern Rockies landscape, having been exterminated by the West’s earliest settlers. (Take Action: Tell the White House to stand up for wolf protections and oppose any plan that allows politics to decide the fate of an imperiled species.)

Regardless, federal law is clear that wildlife like wolves, once protected under the Endangered Species Act, cannot be sent back to oblivion at the whim of a state. The law requires federal wildlife managers to assure that adequate state measures are in place to protect species before eliminating their ESA safety net. Earthjustice expects to be part of the effort to make sure this law is upheld.

(Explore an interactive timeline of the northern Rocky gray wolves, beginning in the 1930s when their numbers were decimated after years of persecution, through their successful reintroduction in the 1990s, to current day's first legal wolf hunts in the northern Rockies in nearly a century.)

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.