WWP Joins Ten Other Groups To Fight Delisting of Wolves in the Northern Rockies

Western Watersheds Project has joined in the legal fight to overturn the delisting of wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Here is the news release and wolf fact sheet sent out today (2/27). WWP and our co-plaintiffs are well-represented by attorney Doug Honnold at Earthjustice’s Bozeman, Montana office.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 27, 2008

CONTACT:
Suzanne Asha Stone, Defenders of Wildlife, (208) 424-0932
Louisa Willcox, Natural Resources Defense Council, (406) 222-9561
Franz Camenzind, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, (307) 733-9417
Kristina Johnson, Sierra Club, (415) 977-5619
Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity, (575) 534-0360
Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 788-2290

ELEVEN CONSERVATION GROUPS CHALLENGE FEDERAL WOLF DELISTING

Washington, D.C.— Eleven conservation groups are fighting to protect wolves in the northern Rockies. The groups notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today that it violated the Endangered Species Act by removing the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population from the list of endangered species despite the genetic inadequacy of the present population and the refusal of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana to make meaningful commitments to wolf conservation. The groups intend to challenge the Service’s decision in federal court. In an effort to overturn the Service’s delisting rule before hundreds of wolves can be killed in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, the conservation groups served their letter within hours of the publication of the delisting rule in the Federal Register. Under the delisting rule, states will assume legal management authority of wolves in the northern Rockies on March 28, 2008.

In the past two decades, the wolves of the northern Rocky Mountains have made remarkable progress toward recovery. While this progress deserves celebration, it is not yet complete. At present, wolves in central Idaho, northwestern Montana, and the Greater Yellowstone area remain largely disconnected from each other and wolves in Canada. The wolves of the Greater Yellowstone area, in particular, have remained genetically isolated since 31 wolves were introduced into Yellowstone National Park more than a decade ago. Moreover, the region’s population of 1,500 wolves still falls short of the 2,000 to 5,000 wolves that independent scientists have determined to be necessary to secure the health of the species. Wolves in the northern Rockies are endangered due to genetic isolation, lack of interchange between wolves in Yellowstone, central Idaho, and northwestern Montana, and an insufficient number of wolves. With continued recovery efforts, legitimate wolf recovery in the region is readily attainable. Delisting would further endanger wolves because of increased wolf killing, reduced wolf numbers, and less genetic exchange between wolf populations.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s premature decision to strip the protections of the Endangered Species Act from the northern Rocky Mountains’ wolves promises to undo the progress of recent years. The state plans that will guide wolf management in the wake of delisting betray the states’ continued hostility toward the presence of wolves in the region. While ensuring that wolves can and will be killed in defense of property or recreation, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana have refused to make enforceable commitments to maintaining viable wolf populations within their borders. The states have also neglected to secure funding for essential monitoring and conservation efforts, relying on continued federal financing of all wolf-related activities following delisting.

Earthjustice submitted the notice letter on behalf of 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 Project, and Western Watersheds Project.

Conservation Group Statements:

“Wolves in the northern Rockies are simply not ready to lose federal protections. America has come too far, and worked too hard, to throw away the successes of the past decade and see wolves in the Yellowstone region end up back where they started.” Suzanne Asha Stone, Defenders of Wildlife

“There is nothing in the state management schemes or delisting rule itself to prevent the killing of up to 80 percent of wolves in the northern Rockies. Attempts by the Fish and Wildlife Service to assure the public otherwise have no factual basis.” Louisa Willcox, Natural Resources Defense Council

“Wolves in the northern Rockies are just now on the cusp of biological recovery. State management after delisting will allow the current wolf population to dwindle to three tiny, isolated groups totaling only 300 wolves. No species, including wolves, can survive in those conditions.” Melanie Stein, Sierra Club

“Just as disturbing as the state management plans that permit killing of hundreds of wolves is the expected increase in federal predator control, including ramped up aerial gunning, leghold traps and even poisoning of wolves. Federal predator control on behalf of the livestock industry is what exterminated wolves in the first place, and that was before the era of helicopter sharpshooters pursuing radio-collared wolves. We will bring this alarming prospect to a court’s attention.” Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity

“Idaho wins the prize for wanting to kill the most wolves. Wyoming wins for the most blatant hostility toward wolves enshrined in state law. And Montana wears the crown for killing the most wolves 8 of the last 10 years despite having the smallest wolf population of all three states.” John Grandy, Ph.D., senior vice president of The Humane Society of the United States

“We are concerned that Wyoming will strictly adhere to the language in the state legislation and aggressively eliminate wolves that now occupy Jackson Hole and parts of Grand Teton National Park. With Wyoming’s current plan, wolves two miles from Jackson’s Town Square could be killed by anyone at any time—this is reprehensible.” Franz Camenzind, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance

“As evidenced by the of State of Idaho's proposals to aerial gun wolves in the Frank Church Wilderness and to kill up to 75% of the wolves on the Upper Lochsa while wolves remained protected, delisting at this time poses a great risk to the Northern Rockies wolf population, which is still recovering.” Will Boyd, Education Director, Friends of the Clearwater

“Legal action is necessary to prevent the states from implementing management schemes that have the primary purpose of eliminating, rather than conserving, wolves.” Michael Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies

“Wolves are just starting to cross the Snake River and begin the process of recovery in the state of Oregon where wolves remain endangered. Prematurely removing the gray wolf from the federal Endangered Species list and allowing Idaho and Wyoming to dramatically reduce wolf populations will delay or even prevent the recovery of the wolf in Oregon.” Doug Heiken, Oregon Wild, formerly Oregon Natural Resources Council

“Wolves are not recovered in the west. There are still public lands with abundant elk and deer populations that can and should sustain these magnificent animals throughout the western states.” Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project

“Gray wolves in the northern Rockies are near biological recovery, but they aren’t there yet. Now, wolves are staring down the barrel at hostile state management schemes that would ensure the wolf population never achieves sustainable numbers and genetic connectivity.” Jenny Harbine, Earthjustice

NORTHERN ROCKIES GRAY WOLF DELISTING FACT SHEET
State Management Will Drive Wolf Numbers Down to the Bare Minimum

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stated that a minimum population of merely 300 wolves—80 percent fewer than currently occupy the northern Rockies—is all that is necessary to keep wolves off the endangered species list. Nonetheless, Service officials assert that state management of northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves will likely result in a population of 900-1,250 wolves, rather than the 300 wolves that the final delisting rule allows. The Service has not cited any commitments by the states to maintain the population above the federally established minimum. In fact, as demonstrated below, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming have not committed to maintain the wolf population above the Service’s minimum number. Inadequate state protections coupled with enduring hostility toward wolves in this region may well cause 80 percent of the region’s approximately 1,500 wolves to be killed under state management.

Wyoming:

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that Wyoming, Idaho and Montana should each maintain 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves to ensure that the states’ populations do not drop below 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves. Wyoming’s management plan does not commit to maintaining 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves, or even 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves. Wyoming state law requires the Wyoming Fish and Game Commission to limit the killing of gray wolves “only as necessary to reasonably ensure at least seven (7) breeding pairs of gray wolves are located in [Wyoming] and primarily outside of [the national parks and parkway].” Wyo. Stat. § 23-1-304(a).
  • Wyoming state law contains no commitment, nor even a statement of intent, to manage for more than 7 breeding pairs (which could be as few as 28 wolves) outside of the national parks. Quite the opposite, Wyoming law does not permit state wildlife managers to manage for more than 7 breeding pairs.
  • Moreover, “[i]n areas of Wyoming where the wolf is classified as a predatory animal”—the vast majority of the state—“take will not be regulated.” Wyoming Plan (2007) at 15. This means anyone with or without a hunting license can shoot a wolf, or wolves, any time of year when encountered in this region.
  • Wyoming officials have stated publicly that they intend to eliminate all but the minimum number of wolves the Fish and Wildlife Service has stated is necessary to prevent re-listing the gray wolf as threatened or endangered. See The Associated Press, Wolf managers target low number (June 11, 2007) (“Wyoming aims to eventually reduce the number of wolves in the state to near the minimum the federal government will allow once the animal is removed from special protection status, a state Game and Fish Department official said.”); Whitney Royster, Feds plan another wolf concession, Casper Star-Tribune (March 31, 2007) (“Wyoming, now with an estimated 26 packs, has said it wants to manage for the minimum number of wolves.”)

Idaho:

  • The final delisting rule states that Idaho is currently home to 788 wolves. According to Idaho’s Wolf Population Management Plan (Oct. 2007), which sets forth specific population targets for Idaho wolf packs, the “minimum number of wolves objective” statewide is 104. See Idaho Fish and Game Department, Draft Idaho Wolf Population Management Plan 2008-2012, at 31 (October 2007). Nothing in the Idaho plan or state law commits Idaho to maintaining numbers above this “minimum number.”
  • On January 11, 2007, Idaho’s governor Butch Otter announced his support for a “gray wolf kill,” in which all but 100 of Idaho’s wolves would be eradicated after delisting. At the rally with about 300 hunters, Otter said, “I’m prepared to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf myself.” See Associated Press, Idaho governor calls for gray wolf kill (Jan. 12, 2007) http://www.enn.com/today.html?id=12019 ; Brad Knickerbocker, Gray wolves may lose US protected status, The Christian Science Monitor (Feb. 1, 2007).
  • Idaho’s wolf management plan makes clear that the state’s official position is that wolves should be managed according to House Joint Memorial No. 5, which resolved that “wolves be removed [from Idaho] by whatever means necessary.” See House Joint Memorial No. 5 (2001), at http://www3.state.id.us/oasis/2001/HJM005.html; Idaho Plan at 4.

Montana:

  • Montana has not made enforceable commitments to maintain wolves above the minimum number established by FWS.
  • Gray wolves in Montana are classified “as a species in need of management.” Mont. Code Ann. § 87-5-131. As applied to wolves, “species in need of management” is not defined by Montana law, although “management” is broadly defined to include “the entire range of activities,” including “control,” “periodic protection of species or populations,” and “regulated taking.” See Mont. Code Ann. § 87-5-102(5). This broad definition of “management” would allow virtually any management regime. This discretion is illustrated by the State’s treatment of the only other species currently designated as a “species in need of management”—bison—which is met with persistent efforts to reduce its presence in Montana. See Mont. Code Ann. § 87-1-216 (authorizing public hunting and bison management to reduce any threats to “persons or property”).
  • Despite a smaller wolf population than both Wyoming and Idaho, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has ordered more wolves killed by federal Wildlife Services than either Wyoming or Idaho. See http://fwp.mt.gov/content/getItem.aspx?id=26915. Montana ordered an average of 38 wolves per year killed in 2002-2006, compared with 28 in Wyoming, and 22 in Idaho. Id. Montana ordered 53 wolves killed in 2006 in response to just 38 confirmed wolf predations on livestock. Id. 2007 numbers are not yet available.

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