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Category: Wolves & Coyotes

Western lawmakers set their sights on gray wolves

A wolf roams Yellowstone National Park

BILLINGS, Mont. — Two decades after the federal government spent a half-million dollars to study the reintroduction of gray wolves to the Northern Rockies, lawmakers say it's time for Congress to step in again -- this time to clamp down on the endangered animals.

To do so they are proposing to bypass the Endangered Species Act and lift protections, first enacted in 1974, for today's booming wolf population.

Critics say the move would undercut one of the nation's premiere environmental laws and allow for the unchecked killing of wolves across the West.

But bitterness against the iconic predator is flaring as livestock killings increase and some big game herds dwindle.

And with state efforts to knock back the predators' expansion stalled in court, senators from Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Utah want to strip wolves of their endangered status by force.

"When they brought wolves to Idaho, the Legislature voted against it, the governor didn't want it and the congressional delegation didn't want it," said Idaho Republican Sen. James Risch. "We didn't want them in the first place. But we are prepared to deal with them as we see fit."

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Agencies consider new means of killing and removing gray wolves after recent court rulings to protect them

Gray Wolf

Billings, Mont. -- Government agencies are seeking broad new authority to ramp up killings and removals of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes, despite two recent court actions that restored the animal's endangered status in all states except Alaska and Minnesota.

Various proposals would gas pups in their dens, surgically sterilize adult wolves and allow "conservation" or "research" hunts to drive down the predators' numbers.

Once poisoned to near-extermination in the lower 48 states, wolves made a remarkable comeback over the last two decades under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. But as packs continue to multiply, their taste for livestock and big game herds coveted by hunters has stoked a rising backlash.

Wildlife officials say that without public wolf hunting, they need greater latitude to eliminate problem packs. Montana and Idaho held inaugural hunts last year but an August court ruling scuttled their plans for 2010.

"As the wolf populations increase, the depredations increase and the number of wolf removals will increase. It's very logical," said Mark Collinge, Idaho director for Wildlife Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture branch that removes problem wolves, typically by shooting them from aircraft.

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Wolf-hunting proponents consider a new tactic: Killing gray wolves in the name of research

Gray wolves

BILLINGS, Mont. — Wildlife officials in the northern Rockies said Wednesday they are considering hunting gray wolves in the name of research to get around a recent court ruling that restored federal protections for the animals.

Environmentalists derided the proposal, vowing to challenge in court any new plans for hunting the estimated 1,367 wolves in Idaho and Montana.

"They're adopting the Japanese whaling approach of holding hunts under the obviously erroneous concept of research," said Mike Leahy, Rocky Mountain director for Defenders of Wildlife. "They're trying to be too clever by half."

Hunters in Idaho and Montana killed 258 wolves during hunts last fall -- the first for wolves in the lower 48 states in decades. State officials said the hunts proved wolves can be hunted without driving the population to extinction.

But the Aug. 5 ruling from U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy is likely to cancel or postpone wolf seasons scheduled to start next month in the two states.

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Judge orders Endangered Species Act protections reinstated for gray wolves in Montana and Idaho

Gray wolf HELENA, Mont. — A federal judge on Thursday reinstated protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho, saying the government made a political decision in removing the protections from just two of the states where Northern Rocky Mountain wolves roam.

The decision puts a halt to wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho planned for this fall. Montana wildlife regulators last month set the wolf-hunt quota at 186, more than doubling last year's number, with the aim of reducing the state's wolf population.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula said in his ruling that the entire region's wolf population either must be listed as an endangered species or removed from the list, but the protections for the same population can't be different for each state.

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service turned over wolf management to Montana and Idaho wildlife officials but left federal endangered species protections in place for wolves in Wyoming. There, legislators have approved a plan classifying wolves in most areas of the state outside the vicinity of Yellowstone National Park as predators that could be shot on sight.

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Mexican gray wolves' endangered status to be reviewed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Mexican gray wolf

ALBUQUERQUE — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it will review the status of the troubled Mexican gray wolf to determine if it should be listed as an endangered species separate from other North American gray wolves.

A court settlement required the agency to issue a finding by the end of July on two petitions that sought a separate listing. The decision was made public Tuesday.

Conservationists have argued that a separate listing is biologically warranted, legally required and would result in stronger protections for the animal.

A subspecies of the gray wolf, the Mexican wolf was exterminated in the wild by the 1930s. Reintroduction began in 1998 along the Arizona-New Mexico border, but the effort has been plagued by illegal shootings and the concerns of ranchers and environmentalists.

RELATED WOLF NEWS:
Five new Mexican gray wolf pups at St. Louis facility represent new hope for their species
Montana officials set 2010 wolf-hunt quota at 186

-- Associated Press

Photo: A Mexican gray wolf at the Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico in 2009. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Montana officials set 2010 wolf-hunt quota at 186

Wolf in Montana

HELENA, Mont. — Montana wildlife regulators have set this year's wolf-hunt quota at 186, more than doubling last year's quota, with the aim of reducing the state's wolf population for the first time since they were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies in 1995.

The quota was set Thursday, even as the state awaits a federal judge's ruling that may determine whether there will be a wolf hunting season at all.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy has yet to rule after hearing arguments last month in a lawsuit brought by environmental groups seeking to restore Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho.

Opponents of the wolf hunt argued the commission should end the hunt before the courts act.

Ranchers and hunters say the wolf population has grown too high, which has led to more attacks on livestock and game.

RELATED WOLF NEWS:
Federal judge blocks Alaska wolf-kill plan (story by Times reporter Kim Murphy)
Five new Mexican gray wolf pups at St. Louis facility represent new hope for their species

-- Matt Volz and Matt Gouras, Associated Press

Photo: A wolf is seen near cattle in a pasture in the Madison Valley near Ennis, Mont. Credit: Todd Graham / Associated Press

Five new Mexican gray wolf pups at St. Louis facility represent new hope for their species

Mexican wolf pup

ST. LOUIS — They looked just like five well-behaved puppies, barely squirming, when a veterinarian gave them their eight-week inoculations. In reality, experts believe the tiny animals offer hope for a nearly extinct breed of wolf.

The Mexican gray wolf pups -- four light gray males and one female -- had a coming-out party of sorts Thursday. Members of the media were given a first glimpse of the pups born May 2 at the Endangered Wolf Center in suburban St. Louis.

Volunteer vet Randy Junge, director of animal health at the St. Louis Zoo, vaccinated the pups and injected tracking microchips under their skin. The pups took it in stride with hardly a yelp or a fidget.

"They're all very healthy," Junge said. "No surprises."

That's good news for advocates of the Mexican gray, a wolf species indigenous to an area that includes Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico. The expansion of the American West has not been kind to the once thriving breed known by some as "El Lobos."

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Rocky Mountain gray wolves' endangered status debated before judge

Gray wolf

MISSOULA, Mont. — A federal judge heard arguments Tuesday on whether gray wolves in Montana and Idaho should be protected once more under the Endangered Species Act and whether those states can ensure the species won't be wiped out under their management.

Defenders of Wildlife, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and other wildlife advocates sued the federal government after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service named wolves in the Northern Rockies a distinct population segment and removed them from the endangered species list in April 2009.

The Fish and Wildlife Service turned over wolf management to Montana and Idaho wildlife officials but left federal endangered species protections in place for wolves in Wyoming, where state law is considered hostile to the animals' survival.

Gray wolves were listed as endangered in 1974, but after a reintroduction program in the mid-1990s, there are now more than 1,700 in the northern Rockies.

The population is one of the most well-studied and best-understood in the world, and the conclusion 15 years after reintroduction is that wolves will continue to survive under state management, Justice Department attorney Mike Eitel told U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy.

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District court judge to hear arguments about Rocky Mountain gray wolves' endangered status

Gray wolfHELENA, Mont. — A federal court hearing on Tuesday could decide how the federal Endangered Species Act is interpreted, and whether the government can use political considerations in choosing how and where a species can be listed under the act, according to people on both sides of the issue.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy will hear arguments in Missoula on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's April 2009 decision that designated northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves a distinct population segment, took the wolves off the endangered species list and turned over wolf management to Montana and Idaho wildlife officials.

The same decision left federal protections in place in Wyoming, where state law is considered hostile to the wolves' survival. Wyoming law declares almost 90 percent of the state a "predator zone" where wolves can be shot on sight.

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Alaska's plan for aerial wolf hunt rejected by judge

Wolf

Alaska's request for a preliminary injunction -- which would have allowed the state to immediately proceed with a plan to hunt seven wolves by air on a federal wildlife refuge on Unimak Island, the largest in the Aleutian Islands chain -- was denied by a district court judge last week.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has argued that killing the wolves, which it blames for the decline of the island's caribou population, is necessary both for the long-term survival of the caribou herd and for the safety of a small number of Alaska Native residents who live there.

There is some disagreement between state and federal wildlife officials over how many caribou actually remain on Unimak, but both agree that the numbers have declined substantially in recent years. An estimated 1,200 caribou were counted in a 2002 census; Alaska biologists estimate only 250 remain, while federal officials believe there are as many as 400.

Both sides agree that action must be taken, but U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland sided with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ruling that the agency is allowed by law to complete studies to determine the cause of the caribou population's decline and the best course of action to take regarding the wolves.

Learn more about the decision in Times reporter Kim Murphy's story.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A gray wolf in the Alaska wilderness. Credit: Associated Press

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