Friday, April 3, 2009

Feds move forward on wolf delisting

Conservation groups say they’ll file suit to keep federal protections in place

Express Staff Writer

The countdown to delisting for gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains has begun—again.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took the final step before officially removing northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves from protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The agency's delisting rule for the region's wolves was published in the Federal Register on Wednesday morning. The move put in motion a 30-day countdown to the removal of wolves from the ESA.

Wolves will lose their ESA status in all of Idaho and Montana and in portions of eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and northern Utah. Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has deemed Wyoming's wolf management plan inadequate, the delisting rule will not extend to wolves in that state.

Federal officials say Wyoming's classification of wolves as "predators" across the majority of the state threatens wolf recovery. That designation would allow wolves to be shot on sight at any time of the year in a designated predator zone covering all but the northwest part of the state. Wyoming officials drew fire last year when hunters began gunning down wolves throughout the predator zone within days of the delisting.

The states of Idaho and Montana classify wolves as big game animals subject to set seasons and harvest quotas.

The delisting effort is the second in a little more than a year. The Fish and Wildlife Service's first try in February 2008 was rebuffed after environmentalists filed suit in an attempt to derail anticipated wolf hunts last fall in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Conservation groups have said they will once again challenge the delisting of wolves in federal court, though federal rules require them to wait 60 days after the delisting rule is published before seeking an injunction.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has established a statewide wolf hunt to begin this fall should the federal delisting stand.

According to Fish and Wildlife Service estimates, 1,639 wolves inhabit the northern Rockies region—846 in Idaho, 491 in Montana and 302 in Wyoming.

There are an estimated 95 breeding pairs—39 in Idaho, 34 in Montana and 22 in Wyoming.

Jason Kauffman:

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