Six conservation organizations filed legal papers in Wyoming federal court today seeking to prevent unregulated poisoning, trapping, and shooting of gray wolves across the vast majority of the species' range in Wyoming outside of Yellowstone National Park.
The State of Wyoming filed suit in October, challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's refusal to approve Wyoming's wolf management plan and eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for the Northern Rockies population of gray wolves. The Wyoming plan proposes to classify wolves as "predators," which would legalize indiscriminate killing throughout 90% of the wolf's range in Wyoming outside of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Wyoming has requested a court order requiring the federal government to approve the Wyoming management plan and to immediately kill approximately 200 wolves in the state.
"Wyoming seeks to turn back the clock on wolf recovery," said Steve Thomas of the Wyoming Sierra Club's Sheridan office. "Wyoming's plan would reinstate wolf policies that brought wolves to the brink of extinction in the first place."
Gray wolves in Wyoming are currently protected by the Endangered Species Act. Although numbers of wolves are increasing, the Fish and Wildlife Service cannot legally "delist" wolves in the Northern Rockies until Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have laws and management plans in place that will maintain viable wolf populations. Based on Wyoming's proposal to manage wolves as "predators," the Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that Wyoming's plan falls short. Wyoming's previous lawsuit challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service's rejection of its wolf management plan was rejected by the federal courts on procedural grounds.
Wyoming claims that the wolf population is responsible for a loss in state revenues. However, according to Louisa Willcox of the Natural Resources Defense Council, "Since wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone over a decade ago, tourism revenues have steadily increased, in large part because wolves attract so many visitors from all over the country." Willcox adds that wolves are consistently one of the lowest causes of mortality in Wyoming livestock, well behind weather, disease, poison, and other predators.
"Wyoming's request that the court order the federal government to remove two-thirds of Wyoming's wolf population demonstrates the state's outright hostility to wolves," said Suzanne Asha Stone, northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife, the conservation organization that has reimbursed Wyoming ranchers more than $200,000 for confirmed livestock losses to wolves. "The fact is the Service would have to kill those wolves and their offspring if Wyoming's demand is granted."
Earthjustice is representing Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance in the lawsuit.