Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced today the federal government's decision to eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the northern Rocky mountains except for those in Wyoming. The delisting effort revives an effort launched by the Bush administration's which was halted in January for review when the Obama administration took office. Today's delisting is the second time in twelve months the government has moved to lift federal protections from wolves. Conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, successfully sued to get the protections reinstated in July 2008.
The decision to lift wolf protections comes as Yellowstone Park wolves declined by 27 percent in the last year -- one of the largest declines reported since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995. Wolf populations in the northern Rockies don't mix enough between the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, central Idaho, and northwest Montana to avoid inbreeding and ensure wolves' long-term survival.
Independent scientists say that between 2,000 and 3,000 wolves are needed to have a sustainable, fully-recovered population. After delisting, the northern Rockies wolf population may be allowed to drop to only 300 to 450 wolves.
Wolves will remain under federal control in Wyoming because the court ruled that Wyoming's hostile wolf management scheme leaves wolves in "serious jeopardy." The Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly stated that a state-by-state approach to delisting wolves was not permitted under the Endangered Species Act, including in an earlier decision to not delist wolves without Wyoming's inclusion.
In addition to Wyoming, Idaho and Montana have refused to make enforceable commitments to maintaining viable wolf populations within their borders. On the very day the first delisting took effect in March, 2008, Idaho Governor Butch Otter signed a law allowing Idaho citizens to kill wolves without a permit whenever wolves are annoying, disturbing, or "worrying" livestock or domestic animals. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission established rules that would have allowed 428 wolves to be killed in 2008 alone had the court not returned wolves to the endangered species list. Montana also planned a fall wolf hunt.
Conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, sent nd the Fish and Wildlife Service a notice that the delisting violates the Endangered Species Act when the government formally submits the rule to the Federal Register, presumably next week. If the agency does not reconsider the delisting rule, the conservation groups will again ask a federal court to reinstate federal Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the northern Rockies until wolf numbers are stronger and the states pledge to responsibly manage wolves.
Earthjustice represented Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, 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 Project, Western Watersheds Project, Wildlands Project, and Hells Canyon Preservation Council in the earlier suit.
Statements of Conservation Organizations
Suzanne Stone, northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife: "Nothing about this rule has changed since it was rejected and deemed unlawful in federal court. It still fails to adequately address biological concerns about the lack of genetic exchange among wolf populations and it still fails to address the concerns with the states' wolf management plans. If this rule is allowed to stand, nearly two-thirds of the wolves in the northern Rockies could be killed. We had hoped for a new delisting plan, based on current science that provides for a healthy, well connected wolf population in the region. Instead we are forced to, once again, challenge a bad rule forcing the expenditure of time and money that would have been much better served towards developing responsible state management plans."
Sierra Club representative Melanie Stein: "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should be working with the state of Wyoming to create a scientifically sound wolf management plan. Northern Rockies wolves should be treated as one connected population. It's short-sighted and inappropriate to delist wolves state-by-state. Wolves don't know political boundaries."
Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity: "Today's announcement means wolves will lose their federal protections before recovery is complete. And, as we saw last year before a federal judge reversed a Bush administration delisting rule, that will result in an unconstrained and unconscionable slaughter of these animals. It is disappointing that the Obama administration is choosing to follow a bad Bush policy to piecemeal wolf conservation efforts instead of prioritizing the development of a national wolf recovery plan. Setting up a system in which wolves in a population are both endangered and not endangered was not contemplated and is not supported by the Endangered Species Act."
Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation with The Humane Society of the United States: "We are disappointed the new administration has missed this opportunity to change course, and rethink the failed wolf persecution policies of the last eight years. We urge the Department of the Interior to reconsider this ongoing effort to strip wolves of all federal protection, which has been repeatedly struck down by the courts, and is no more likely to succeed here than the previous failed attempts."
Michael Garrity, executive director of the Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies: "We are disappointed in this decision since Idaho, Wyoming and Montana stand ready to implement management schemes that have the primary purpose of eliminating, rather than conserving, wolves."
Doug Heiken, Oregon Wild: "Oregon has a lot of wild forests that provide high quality wolf habitat, but it's mostly unoccupied. Secretary Salazar's decision is a big set-back for wolf recovery efforts in Oregon because true recovery in Oregon will depend on healthy wolf populations across the northern Rockies."
Dan Kruse of the Cascadia Wildlands Project: "This decision is a terrible blow to Oregon's fledgling wolf population, which is so dependent upon the migration of wolves from the northern Rockies. At this critical junction, where Oregon's wolves have a fighting chance for the first time in more than sixty years, the decision to take away their protection is particularly unjustified."
Jon Marvel of Western Watersheds Project: "This shameful ruling will result in the killing of hundreds of wolves just to benefit ranchers. With this decision, Ken Salazar is subjecting wolves to the whim of states that have proven to be incapable of protecting them."
Jennifer Schwartz, Hells Canyon Preservation Council: "The possibility that a viable population of wolves can naturally disperse and re-colonize in Oregon in the near future is significantly diminished, if our neighbor Idaho is allowed to greatly reduce its core wolf population. The delisting rule amounts to a very disheartening setback for our organization and its many members who welcome the return of wolves in Oregon."
Earthjustice Attorney Jenny Harbine: "The states are eager to begin killing wolves without federal oversight. By delisting wolves, the federal government is handing Idaho and Montana a loaded gun. The Fish and Wildlife Service says states may kill all but 300 of the current northern Rockies population of around 1,500 wolves. The population cannot stand this level of mortality."
Jenny Harbine, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699
Suzanne Asha Stone, Defenders of Wildlife, (208) 861-4655
Louisa Willcox, Natural Resources Defense Council, (406) 222-9561
Melanie Stein, Sierra Club, (307) 733-4557
Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity, (575) 313-7017
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