gray wolf on forest during daytime

A gray wolf is seen in the Canadian Rockies.

(Photo: Brianna R./Unsplash)

Groups to Sue Feds for Refusing to Protect Wolves in Western US

"The current killing regimes in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming put wolves at obvious risk of extinction in the foreseeable future, and this core population is key to wolf survival in the West."

Two coalitions of conservation groups on Wednesday filed notices of their intent to sue the U.S. government for not granting federal endangered or threatened species protections to gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains or across the western United States.

The notices, sent to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams, give the FWS 60 days to change its finding that Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the region's wolves are "not warranted," or face two lawsuits. The agency's finding was announced last week and published in the Federal Register Wednesday.

Since a congressional legislative rider and court battles stripped the area's wolves of ESA protections over a decade ago, states have stepped up their killing efforts while local and national groups have fought to protect the animals—including with a pair of petitions calling on FWS to reconsider the issue, which led to the service's latest finding.

"It's beyond frustrating that federal officials are harming wolf recovery by denying wolves in the northern Rockies the powerful federal protections they deserve," declared Andrea Zaccardi, carnivore conservation legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which has partnered with the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, and the Sierra Club.

"Unlike the Fish and Wildlife Service, we refuse to sanction the annual slaughter of hundreds of wolves."

"Unlike the Fish and Wildlife Service, we refuse to sanction the annual slaughter of hundreds of wolves," she continued. "Allowing unlimited wolf killing sabotages decades of recovery efforts in the northern Rockies, as well as those in neighboring West Coast and southern Rockies states."

Nick Gevock, Sierra Club field organizer for the northern Rockies, specifically called out FWS for failing to recognize the impacts of policies in Idaho and Montana, asserting that "the regimens these states have pursued are reminiscent of the 1800s effort to eradicate wolves, and they have no place in modern wildlife management."

In recent years, Montana legislators have advanced various measures opposed by conservationists and experts, including a "bounty program" law to reimburse hunters and trappers for their expenses. In Idaho, the state can use taxpayer money to hire private contractors to kill wolves, and there is no limit on how many wolf tags hunters can obtain.

"Nearly 30 years after wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, wolves in the region are once again in danger of extinction," said Margie Robinson, staff attorney for wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States. "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must make decisions that protect precious native wildlife for generations to come, rather than allowing states to cater to trophy hunters, trappers, and ranchers."

Yellowstone stretches across parts of Idaho and Montana but is largely in Wyoming, which has come under fire for designating gray wolves as "predatory animals" across much of the state, meaning they can be killed without a license.

Members of the coalition represented by the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) also blasted all three states' policies. Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, warned that "the current killing regimes in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming put wolves at obvious risk of extinction in the foreseeable future, and this core population is key to wolf survival in the West."

Both coalitions argue that the FWS ignored "the best available science" and should not rely on the states' wolf tallies. Molvar said that "even if the states' population estimates were defensible—and they aren't, according to recent scientific analyses—the feds are underestimating the extinction agendas of anti-wolf state governments and the small and tentative state of recovering wolf populations elsewhere in the West."

Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense, also part of the WELC coalition, stressed that "Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming have become the poster children for what happens when politics trumps science."

"They are cruelly driving wolves in the northern Rockies to extinction via wanton shooting, trapping, snaring, even driving over them with a snowmobile," Fahy said. "Science shows us the importance of intact pack structures. Each family member has a vital role to play and they grieve each loss."

Joining the Molvar and Fahy's groups are the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater, International Wildlife Coexistence Network, Nimiipuu Protecting Our Environment, Protect the Wolves, Trap Free Montana, WildEarth Guardians, and Wilderness Watch.

"It's deeply concerning to hear that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided not to list gray wolves, a sacred species to Native Americans in the western U.S., under the Endangered Species Act, while ignoring traditional sacred religious beliefs of traditional Native Americans," said Roger Dobson of Protect the Wolves.

"It's important to protect these intelligent and family-oriented predators to maintain ecosystem health, and to protect Native American sacred religious beliefs," Dobson added. "Hopefully, the service will take steps to address the problems with their determination before it's too late for these native wildlife species, before violating Indigenous religious beliefs."

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