Judge returns gray wolves to protected status, halting wolf hunting plans in Idaho and Montana
A federal judge Thursday returned gray wolves to protection under the Endangered Species Act, effectively halting the possibility of wolf hunting seasons in Idaho and Montana this year.
U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy said in his ruling that de-listing portions of the Northern Rockies wolf population in Idaho and Montana while leaving those in Wyoming protected violated the Endangered Species Act, and that wolf populations cannot be managed based on political boundaries such as state lines.
"The Endangered Species Act does not allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list only part of a 'species' as endangered, or to protect a listed distinct population segment only in part as the Final Rule here does," Molloy wrote.
In separate statements, Montana and Idaho wildlife officials decried the decision.
"If we understand the ruling correctly, Judge Molloy is telling the federal government that because Wyoming still doesn't have adequate regulatory mechanisms to manage wolves, you can't de-list the wolf in Montana and Idaho," said Joe Maurier, director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
"We simply can't manage wildlife successfully in that environment," continued Maurier. "We must have the ability to manage wildlife, to do our job, to seek a balance among predator and prey. As a practical matter, as wildlife managers, we need the authority to respond to the challenges wolves present every day."
The Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks Commission has asked state wildlife officials to immediately appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court, and to aggressively seek management options with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Idaho Fish and Game has, for the time being, suspended plans for wolf tag sales.
"We're frustrated; we're angry; we're disappointed," Idaho Fish and Game Deputy Director Jim Unsworth said. "We've played by the rules, but his decision allows procedural technicalities to overcome sound science and common sense."The state Fish and Game Commission had planned to consider season dates, limits on the number of wolves killed and allowable hunting methods for this fall’s hunt during its Aug. 16 meeting.
"This is a major setback for responsible wildlife management in Idaho. We have demonstrated our ability to conduct a hunting season in an orderly fashion," Fish and Game Commission Chairman Wayne Wright said. "It's a shame when legal twists can trump wildlife management. This is not how the Endangered Species Act should work."
-- Kelly Burgess
Photo: A gray wolf runs through the snow in Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Barry O'Neill / National Park Service