A Federal U.S. District Court recently overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s April 2009 decision to delist the gray wolves from the Endangered Species list in the Northern Rocky Mountain Region—stripping the wolves of the Endangered Species Act(ESA) protections that prevented wolves from being hunted in Idaho and Montana. The wolves are now once again protected under the ESA.
This decision comes as a victory to Defenders of Wildlife and the 13 other conservation groups named in the suit against Ken Salazar, secretary of the interior, Rowan Gould, acting U.S. Fish and Wildlife director, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Within 61 days of the March 2009 delisting of the gray wolf from the Endangered Species list, 69 wolves were killed in Montana, according to Defenders of Wildlife. Roughly 300 wolves were killed during the 2009 hunting season in Idaho and Montana, bringing the wolf population down to 1,650 wolves by the end of 2009. A healthy stable wolf population needs between 2,000-5,000 wolves according to independent experts.
“This decision is a significant victory for wolves, for the integrity of the Endangered Species Act and for all Americans who care deeply about conservation,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.
“We all need to work together to craft responsible state management plans for wolves that allow for healthy, interconnected wolf populations now and in the future. For that to happen, regional recovery goals will need to be updated based on the best available peer reviewed science.”
The court’s decision asserts that in order to delist a species as endangered, the same major considerations required to list a species under the ESA must be taken into account. Species’ population sizes must increase sufficiently to provide assurance that the species is not at risk. The court ruled that the ESA does not allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list part of species as endangered. Additionally, the court disagreed with the UFW’s interpretation of the phrase “significant portion of its range”, affirming that the ESA does not allow a distinct population to be subdivided. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service subdivided the wolf population, not acknowledging that wolves remain endangered in Wyoming.
Supporters of wolf delisting blame wolves in part for the loss of elk and livestock.
“It [the delisting of wolves from the endangered species list] turns over the management to the state of Idaho Fish and Game department. We’ll move forward like we do with our other species: set hunting season, regulate the wolf population, we’ll harvest them more in areas where we have trouble with elk depredation, or livestock depredation, and we’ll be more conservative in other areas like our back country,” said Jim Unsworth deputy director of the Idaho Fish and Game Department, in an interview on the outdoor podcast on todayswilderness.com shortly following the announcement of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s April 2009 decision to delist the gray wolf as endangered.
However, state agencies in Idaho and Montana will still be able to manage and remove wolves causing problems to livestock or causing unnatural decline in game species.
During the 1930s, pack-dwelling wolves were eradicated from the Northern Rocky Mountain Region, which includes Washington, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Idaho, and Yellowstone National Park. After the ESA was adopted in 1973 efforts began to restore the wolf population. These efforts continue to the bewilderment of those who view the wolf as only a mysterious roaming predator able to consume 20 pounds of meat in one meal.