Federal District Court Judge Donald Molloy heard arguments yesterday on whether the federal government’s decision to delist wolves in the northern Rockies was illegal. On the line is the ability of Montana and Idaho to allow wolf hunting, which is not permitted when a species is listed as endangered.
Both states allowed hunting of wolves last year. Montana’s hunt killed 72 wolves. In Idaho, 188 wolves were killed. Both states intend to set higher wolf hunting quotas this fall in an effort to reduce the size of the wolf population.
In 1974, gray wolves were listed as endangered species. Federal protections for wolves were removed in Montana and Idaho in May 2009, but federal protections were kept in place in Wyoming, a state with laws hostile to wolves.
Earthjustice attorney Doug Honnold argued that the entire northern Rockies wolf population—including Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming—must remain protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The federal government’s attorney argued that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is allowed to split a single wolf population along state lines for the purpose of providing differential protections.
At the hearing, Judge Molloy told the government’s lawyer, "I understand the practical argument, I understand the political argument. Those two things are very, very clear. But what I don’t understand is the legal argument. That’s not very clear."
Honnold also challenged the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declare that the northern Rockies wolf population does not need federal protections so long as there are at least 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs in each of the three states, even while the agency has said that the Midwest’s wolf population requires 1,500 wolves to be considered recovered.
"We hope the Fish and Wildlife Service will go back to the drawing board and come up with something that will work," said Honnold. Judge Molloy stated he would issue a final decision in the case "as quickly as I can." We will keep you updated.