Gray wolf delisting formalized

wolf_elk_hartmanmw15The federal government’s second attempt at removing endangered species protection for the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies will be published today, with environmental groups already promising a legal challenge.


“The science on this is clear,” said Ed Bangs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Helena. “Wolves are recovered.”


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its latest delisting plan late last year, but the official decision will be published in the Federal Register today, which sets in motion removal of federal protections in Montana and Idaho.


Wolves will be delisted May 4, Bangs said.


For all practical purposes, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks already is managing wolves here, but the transfer of control will allow hunting seasons and more liberal defense-of-property rules.


“We’re not hostile to the notion of hunting,” said Louisa Willcox, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Livingston. “We’re concerned about the overall, cumulative kill level.”

Idaho’s hunting season is particularly troubling, she said.


The organization is one of 12 conservation groups that announced plans Wednesday to file a lawsuit in 60 days to block the delisting plans.


Montana, Wyoming and Idaho have 1,600 wolves and 95 breeding pairs. Willcox contends the population needs to be 2,000 to 3,000 to guarantee recovery. “We’re close,” she said.


Under the new plan, federal protection would remain in place in Wyoming, where state law defines wolves as a predatory animal that can be shot without cause in 88 percent of the state. Wyoming wolves were part of the first delisting plan, but Bangs said its management plan would allow too many wolves to be killed.


The state of Wyoming told the Associated Press it’s planning to sue the federal government for leaving wolves in that state on the endangered species list.


Lawsuits were expected and won’t automatically derail delisting, Bangs said.


“I’m hoping, while the court goes through this, they will let states manage wolves,” he said.


Another change in the new plan is it provides more evidence wolf subpopulations are connected, Bangs said.


Wolves were delisted the first time Feb. 28 of last year.


But conservation groups sued, challenging the adequacy of Wyoming’s management and questioning the genetic connectivity between subpopulations. Rather than fight the case in court, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to withdraw its delisting rule and come up with a new plan addressing the concerns.


Federal protections were restored July 18.


In March, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar affirmed the agency’s new plan, but 12 conservation groups announced Wednesday their intent to sue again.


The groups are the NRDC, Defenders of Wildlife, 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 and Wildlands Project.

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