Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Conservationists file suit to reinstate wolf protections

Groups hope to reverse delisting before Idaho and Montana wolf hunts begin this fall


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

Conservationists filed suit against the federal government Tuesday in an effort to reverse a decision that removed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains.

The 13 groups that filed the lawsuit charge that U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar failed to fully consider both scientific and legal inadequacies underlying the delisting rule—released in the waning days of the Bush administration—before adopting it on April 2. In a news release, the groups claim the rule will allow more than two-thirds of the region's wolves to be killed before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would even consider stepping back in and restoring protections.

"We cannot ignore that this delisting plan fails to protect their future," said Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies Representative for Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups filing the lawsuit.

Stone said they had hoped to avoid the lawsuit, but Salazar's decision to proceed with the delisting left them no choice. She said state management plans approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service could lead to a drop in wolf numbers in the northern Rockies from an estimated 1,650 animals to just 450.

"We are going to court in order to ensure that wolves are fully recovered and treated as key components of the northern Rockies ecosystem—not as token isolated subpopulations maintained at the most minimum levels in national parks and wilderness areas," she said.

The federal government's delisting of wolves in April did not include the state of Wyoming, whose wolf management plan the Fish and Wildlife Service has deemed inadequate. On Tuesday, according to news reports, Wyoming officials also filed suit against the federal government challenging their absence from the delisting.

Should conservationists fail to overturn the delisting, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is prepared to open the state's first wolf hunt later this fall. The state's Fish and Game Commission will set wolf-hunting quotas later this summer.

Except for several spots in the state—including the Sawtooth Valley, where the hunt would run from September through March—Idaho's wolf hunt will generally run from October through December.

Jason Kauffman: jkauffman@mtexpress.com




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