Court Finds Wolf Delisting is Likely Unlawful; Declines to Stop Wolf Hunts

For Immediate Release

Conservation Groups
Contact: 

Jenny Harbine, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699
Suzanne Asha Stone, Defenders of Wildlife, (208) 861-4655
Louisa Willcox, Natural Resources Defense Council, (406) 222-9561
Melanie Stein, Sierra Club, (307) 733-4557
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495

Court Finds Wolf Delisting is Likely Unlawful; Declines to Stop Wolf Hunts

MISSOULA, Montana - Late Tuesday evening, a federal district court issued an order finding that the delisting of wolves
in the northern Rockies was likely illegal, but declined to stop wolf
hunts in Idaho and Montana. In the ruling, the court stated that the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove protections from
wolves in Idaho and Montana while retaining protections for Wyoming
wolves appeared to be “a practical determination that does not seem to
be scientifically based.”
 
The court order came
in an ongoing lawsuit seeking to restore federal Endangered Species Act
protections to wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains until wolf
numbers are stronger, the states develop an adequate legal safety net,
and connectivity between recovery areas is ensured. The order came just
over a week after Idaho’s wolf-hunting season opened on September 1 in
two of the state’s 12 hunting units. Montana is set to begin wolf
hunting on September 15.

Idaho
authorized the killing of 220 wolves in a wolf hunt, which represents
25 percent of the last official Idaho wolf population estimate at the
end of December 2008. Montana has authorized the take of 75 wolves in a
wolf hunt, which is 15 percent of its last official wolf population
estimate.

The court declined to stop the hunts
because it held that a single hunting season at these levels in Idaho
and Montana would not “irreparably harm” the wolf population as a
whole.

The wolf hunting is in addition to wolf
killing due to livestock conflicts, defense-of-property wolf killing,
and natural mortality, which last year accounted for more than 200 wolf
deaths in Idaho and Montana. The hunting would occur throughout the
states, including in core wilderness regions where wolves have
virtually no conflicts with livestock. The combined loss of all these
wolves threatens the recovery of the still-vulnerable regional wolf
population in the northern Rockies.

Under the
challenged U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf delisting rule, Idaho
and Montana are free to reduce the wolf population down to 150 per
state – a potential loss of roughly two-thirds of the region’s wolves.
No other endangered species has ever been delisted at such a low
population level and then immediately hunted to even lower,
unsustainable levels.

The wolf hunts threaten to
cripple the regional wolf population by isolating wolves into
disconnected subgroups incapable of genetic or ecological
sustainability. The wolf hunts would also allow the killing of the
breeding alpha male and female wolves, thereby disrupting the social
group, leaving pups more vulnerable.

Wolves are
still under federal protection in Wyoming because a federal court
previously ruled that Wyoming’s hostile wolf-management scheme leaves
wolves in “serious jeopardy.” The Fish and Wildlife Service in the
recent past held that a state-by-state approach to delisting wolves was
not permitted under the Endangered Species Act, but the federal
government flip-flopped on its earlier position and this year took
wolves in Idaho and Montana off the endangered species list while
leaving those in Wyoming on the list.

In addition to Wyoming,
the states of Idaho and Montana have refused to make enforceable
commitments to maintain viable wolf populations within their borders.

Earthjustice
represents Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council,
Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the
United States, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Friends of the
Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Oregon Wild, Cascadia
Wildlands, Western Watersheds Project, Wildlands Network, and Hells
Canyon Preservation Council.

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“We’re
disappointed that wolves will continue to be hunted in the short term,
but we’re very encouraged that the court has expressed agreement that
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted illegally by delisting wolves
under the current rule.” Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies representative of Defenders of Wildlife

“In the big picture, this is a win,” said Louisa Willcox, senior wildlife advocate at NRDC.
“We feel good about the judge’s analysis of the merits of our case. The
Department of Interior has clearly missed an opportunity to get this
right. We need a national wolf recovery plan and this piecemeal effort
just won’t get us there.”

“We are encouraged by the
fact that Judge Molloy agrees that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
violated the Endangered Species Act when removing protections for
wolves. However, we are disheartened that public hunting will be
allowed to continue in Idaho and Montana this fall. Wolves are at the
brink of recovery in the northern Rockies and we believe a public hunt
is premature and could negatively impact their chance to make a full
recovery.”  Melanie Stein, Sierra Club representative

“Today’s
order affirms that removal of protections for wolves in the northern
Rockies before they have fully recovered was illegal,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Although the court’s decision to leave wolves unprotected is a setback for recovery, we hope it is a temporary one.” 

“Here in Oregon, we just had two young wolves killed after conflicts with livestock,” said Rob Klavins with the conservation group Oregon Wild.
“The last thing our neighbors need to be doing is shooting these still
recovering animals for sport. We hope that the state-sponsored hunts
can be ended soon and recovery can begin once again.”

“In
keeping with Judge Molloy’s findings in this Order, WWP looks forward
to the overturning of the delisting of wolves in the northern Rockies
and the ending of hunting of wolves,” said Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds Project.

“Today’s ruling is a split decision,” said Doug Honnold of Earthjustice,
who represents the conservation groups in the wolf-delisting lawsuit.
“We are glad the court agreed with us that the Fish and Wildlife
Service violated the Endangered Species Act. We are deeply saddened by
the fact that the court decided not to stop the Idaho and Montana wolf
hunts this year.”

 

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