The long-running battle over the status of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains is heading into another critical stretch.
The eventual outcome could provide an important indication of attitudes toward wolves in this region and in many other states, and toward endangered species in general.
A primary focus of the Rocky Mountain battle is the US Fish and Wildlife Service's proposed rule, released July 6, 2007, to expand the criteria allowing wolf kills in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Another focus is a possible FWS decision, maybe by the end of 2007, on whether to turn wolf management over to these states, then remove wolves in this area from the federal list of threatened and endangered species.
Under the current rules for allowable wolf kills, only a few dozen wolves in these states have been legally killed by private citizens since wolf reintroduction began in 1995, the FWS says. The FWS proposal on the table would add to the expansion of conditions allowing wolf kills approved in a 2005 revision.
Wolf advocates fear the additional exemptions will lead to the deaths of hundreds more wolves, sabotaging their recent comeback to an estimated 1,300 wolves in this area. That number far exceeds the FWS recovery goal of 300 total in all three states. Under the FWS proposal, the number would be allowed to go as low as 200 in each state, and with delisting, the legal minimum might be 100 in each state.
Given the general attitudes in the three states, wolf advocates are particularly concerned about the fate of wolves in Idaho and Wyoming, where there is considerable government and citizen support for killing more wolves.
The Federal Register notice for the July 6 proposal is included in a July 9, 2007, FWS press release; Ed Bangs, 406-449-5225 x204. Public hearings and open houses are scheduled for July 17 in Cody, WY, July 18 in Helena, MT, and July 19 in Boise, ID. The 30-day comment period closes Aug. 6, 2007.
Along with this rule change, FWS published another Federal Register notice on July 6 announcing it was reopening for 30 days the public comment period for delisting these wolves. The previous comment period ran from Feb. 8 to May 9, 2007. A public hearing and open house for this process will be held July 17 in Cody, WY (following the other session noted above).
But the delisting could be interrupted again by continuing legal maneuvers between the state of Wyoming and FWS. Wyoming has been trying for some time to get its wolf management plan approved - a requirement before FWS can turn management over to the state - but FWS rejections of plans, and lawsuits by the state challenging FWS decisions, have extended the process. After a 2006 court decision rejecting a WY lawsuit, WY recently filed a similar suit, and briefs by all parties have just been submitted. See Earthjustice press release of April 6, 2006.A court decision, or possibly a settlement, may come by the end of the year. The latest WY management plan, and links to recent state legislative actions, are available on the site of Wyoming Game and Fish.
If WY and FWS resolve their differences, and FWS approves a WY management plan and subsequently proposes to delist these wolves, advocates such as Earthjustice (Jenny Harbine or Doug Honnold,406-586-9699) may sue. They may also sue if just the rule revision is approved by FWS, and additional kills are approved beginning this year. Many of Earthjustice's concerns, about both the rule revision and delisting, are detailed in a May 8, 2007, letter (representing NRDC, Sierra Club, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, and The Humane Society of the United States) to FWS.
Another critic of many aspects of FWS wolf efforts is Defenders ofWildlife: July 5, 2007, press release (including contacts for Sierra Club, Wolf Recovery Foundation, and Wolf Education and Research Center).
Other state information is available at:
- July 4, 2007, Associated Press, by Ben Neary.
- For more information, see the TipSheet of Feb. 19, 2003.