Wednesday, August 18, 2010

State resolves to fight wolf ruling

Commission vows to support appeal of relisting


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A wolf walks through the upper Wood River Valley.

State wildlife managers will continue to fight the decision to relist wolves under the Endangered Species Act, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission announced Monday.

Fish and Game spokesman Ed Mitchell said that while Fish and Game cannot launch an appeal on its own, it can support an appeal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We'll do everything we can to try and make it happen," Mitchell said.

He said it was still unclear whether Fish and Wildlife would decide to appeal the decision.

The commission passed a resolution during its regular meeting Monday that stated its wolf management position unequivocally, calling for an appeal to U.S. Judge Donald Molloy's decision earlier this month that placed wolves back under federal protection and effectively canceled Idaho's 2010-11 wolf-hunting season.

"There is clearly frustration on their part regarding delisting," said Suzanne Stone, representative of the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife. "It frustrates all the stakeholders at this point. What we want is a good delisting program that provides for a sustainable wolf population in the region."

There are an estimated 835 wolves in Idaho, and Fish and Game expressed concern that the relisting will cause elk populations to decline.

The resolution states that Fish and Game officials have chosen to "advocate and support" an appeal of Molloy's decision, though it does not mention if the commission itself will be a party in the appeal.

The resolution also states that Fish and Game will continue to manage wolves under the act's 10(j) rule, which gives state officials the ability to remove wolves that threaten livestock or wildlife populations.

The commission also resolved to set a wolf-hunting season as soon as wolves are delisted. There are no plans for a wolf hunt this year, however, and hunters who have already received their wolf tags may be eligible for a refund.

The resolution comes on the heels of a wolf management plan for the Lolo region released by the Department of Fish and Game on Friday. A department study determined that wolves kill 20 percent of the female elk population there each year. The plan, which involves culling of wolves by the federal Wildlife Services, was adopted as an alternative to a seasonal wolf hunt.

Elk populations in the Lolo region have been dropping steadily over the past three decades, due in part to degraded habitat, natural mortality and predation, studies indicate.

Fish and Game Deputy Director Jim Unsworth said wolves in the region would be kept under 30 animals.

The Lolo wolf management program is currently open for perusal and comment at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/public. It will be open for comment until Aug. 27, and once reviewed, will be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for final approval.

"Lolo has been a habitat that has been degraded for elk," said Garrick Dutcher, program manager for the advocacy group Living with Wolves. "Wolves are taking the hit. Killing 70 to 80 percent of a population of wolves is not the way anyone would imagine treating an animal that is endangered."

Still, both Stone and Dutcher see future wolf management plans as a sensible solution and possible end to the war over the presence of wolves in Idaho.

"We're all frustrated with the tug-of-war that has been occurring in the region for decades over wolves," Stone said. "We are anxious to work with the states to craft a wolf-management plan that secures the future of wolves in the region."

Originally, the Monday Fish and Game Commission meeting agenda was set to include establishment of wolf-harvest numbers in the now-canceled public hunt.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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