An advance copy of the Federal Register, released today, contains a final version of the federal government’s decision to eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the northern Rockies except for those in Wyoming. The delisting effort revives an effort launched by the Bush administration which was halted in January for review when the Obama administration took office. Today’s delisting decision is the second time in twelve months the federal government has removed federal protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies. Conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, successfully sued to get the protections reinstated in July 2008.
Delisting wolves means they will be subject to state-sponsored wolf control efforts and hunting this year unless stopped by legal action. Idaho and Montana plan to allow hundreds of wolves to be shot.
Conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, will send the Fish and Wildlife Service a notice that the delisting violates the Endangered Species Act. 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.
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. The northern Rockies wolf population also has not achieved a level of connectivity between the greater Yellowstone, central Idaho, and northwest Montana areas that is essential to wolves’ long-term survival. 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 a federal court previously ruled that Wyoming’s hostile wolf management scheme leaves wolves in "serious jeopardy." The Fish and Wildlife Service in the recent past held that a state-by-state approach to delisting wolves was not permitted under the Endangered Species Act, including in their earlier decision to not delist wolves without Wyoming’s inclusion. In today’s delisting decision, the federal government flip flops on its earlier position.
In addition to Wyoming, Idaho and Montana have refused to make enforceable commitments to maintain viable wolf populations within their borders. On the very day the first wolf 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 authorized a fall wolf hunt.
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, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Western Watersheds Project, Wildlands Project, and Hells Canyon Preservation Council.