May 5 was the gray wolf’s official last day on the endangered species list in the Northern Rocky Mountain states of Idaho and Montana and parts of Oregon, Washington and Utah. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which oversees the management of endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), was compelled to remove the predator from the endangered species list by legislation enacted as part of the recent budget passed for fiscal year 2011.
The wolf had previously been delisted in those states in 2009, but a 2010 Federal District Court case led to their relisting mere months before a scheduled hunting season in Idaho and Montana. The judge in the case, Judge Donald Molloy, ruled the animal’s population was contiguous throughout the states, and didn’t recognize the political borders of states. Until the wolf could be delisted in Wyoming, the only state without a USFWS-accepted management plan, it had to remain on the endangered species list in the other states, as well.
Immediately after the ruling, bills were introduced in the U.S. Congress to force the delisting of wolves, exempting them from the ESA.
When the new Congress came into session in January, the 2010 bills had to be reintroduced and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) drafted a budget rider that was passed with the 2011 budget last month. On Thursday, the Department of Interior published the rule reinstating the delisting, effective immediately.
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC), an environmental conservation group, issued a statement Wednesday applauding the delisting but cautioning Montana and Idaho the work isn’t over.
“Montana and Idaho have long said they could manage wolves in a way that sustains recovery. Now the two states will get their chance to prove it,” the statement said.
While acknowledging the wolf population has been greatly restored in the Northern Rocky Mountain region, GYC points out how easy it would be to go backwards.
“Radical elements in all western legislatures would wage war on wolves,” it said. “It is up to reasonable people to stay vigilant so that the states manage wolves responsibly.”
Despite the delisting in Montana and Idaho, wolves remain on the endangered species list in Wyoming, as the State and the USFWS haven’t come to an agreement on a wolf management plan. For years, Wyoming’s proposed plan has given the wolf trophy status in the Yellowstone National Park area; at the same time, the plan considered the animal a predator that could be shot on sight.
In his statement on the final delisting in Idaho and Montana, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said the USFWS is “working closely with [Wyoming] to develop a wolf management plan that would allow wolves in Wyoming to be removed from the list in the future.”
Wednesday, Gov. Matt Mead issued a statement of appreciation for Salazar’s commitment to working with the state.
“I am hopeful that we are close to an agreement with the [USFWS] to move a proposal to Congress,” Mead said. “I continue to believe that wolves should be delisted … otherwise, Wyoming loses as wolf numbers grow and more big game and livestock are killed.”
Members of the Governor’s staff have held meetings with USFWS representatives and local stakeholders on a possible compromise that would lead to a plan the USFWS could accept. Mead and others, including Sublette County Board of Commissioners Chairman Joel Bousman, are adamant legislation is needed to prevent further litigation on the matter.
For the complete article see the 05-06-2011 issue.
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