Conservation groups are fighting a Bush administration plan that would allow the states of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana to kill well over half of the Rocky Mountain wolf population, including by shooting wolves from the air, while they are still protected under the Endangered Species Act. In an effort to bar states from aerial gunning and other state-sponsored killing of wolves, seven conservation groups filed a suit in federal district court today to stop the implementation of the rule.
The new rule lowers the bar for wolf killing when a state determines that wolves may be having some impact on populations of elk, deer, or other wild ungulates. The Bush administration says the rule change is necessary because the previous standard required states to show that wolves are the primary cause of a decline in wild ungulate numbers. That threshold has proven impossible to meet because nearly all elk herds in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana are above population objectives, and wolves have never been determined to have primarily caused a population decline.
Today's action will allow the states to kill all but 600 of the approximately 1,500 wolves in the region. The rule applies to wolves in central Idaho and the Greater Yellowstone area -- descendents of the roughly 60 wolves that were reintroduced to those regions in 1995 and 1996.
"The federal government is overlooking the benefits wolves are bringing to the states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana," said Earthjustice attorney Doug Honnold. "The University of Montana found that visitors coming to Yellowstone National Park to see wolves brought $35 million annually to the region's economy, which yields more than $70 million in added benefit to communities in the Northern Rockies. Elk populations are now healthier, streams run cold and clear again, and other wildlife populations are back in balance."
"This is a giant step backward. There is absolutely no reason to begin a wholesale slaughter of the region's wolves," said Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies wolf conservation specialist for Defenders of Wildlife. "Yet that is exactly what the federal government is willing to allow the states to do: wipe out hundreds of the wolves our nation has worked so hard to recover."
"In this rule, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is either downplaying the threats to wolves, or it has forgotten all the trigger-happy statements made by Wyoming and Idaho officials who want to kill as many wolves as possible, as soon as possible," says Louisa Willcox of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The rule remains in effect only until the administration removes wolves from the list of endangered species, an action that is expected to come next month. Nonetheless, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adopted the rule in response to the state of Wyoming, which insisted that states have the right to kill wolves affecting elk herds in any way even if a federal court overturns wolf delisting in the Northern Rockies.
"Deer and elk populations are thriving in this region. There's absolutely no reason to begin slaughtering wolves, other than to please a handful of special interests," said Sierra Club representative Melanie Stein. "This is another example of politics trumping science in the Bush administration. Federal and state agencies are tripping over each other, and our wildlife are suffering as a result."
Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity noted that the rule might allow wolves to be killed for their beneficial effect of dispersing elk from sensitive streamsides even when the elk population as a whole continues to rise. Robinson continued that "the rule harkens back to a period in which wolves' natural role of maintaining the balance of nature is seen as a problem."
"This rule is nothing less than a declaration of war on wolves in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana," said John Grandy, Ph.D., senior vice president of The Humane Society of the United States. "After decades of progress, the service is abandoning all that we have achieved for wolf conservation and returning to the short-sighted persecution and extermination policies of the past."
Earthjustice represents Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, and Friends of the Clearwater in the lawsuit.
Suzanne Asha Stone, Defenders of Wildlife, (208) 861-4655
Louisa Willcox, Natural Resources Defense Council, (406) 222-9561
Doug Honnold, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699
Franz Camenzind, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, (307) 733-9417
Melanie Stein, Sierra Club, (307) 733-4557
Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity, (575) 313-7017
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