The wolf protection debacle


Wyoming wolves and dead elk
Photo credit: Getty Images

The state of Wyoming and the federal government will appeal a ruling by a federal judge to reinstate protections for wolves in the state. 

In September, a federal judge overruled U.S. wildlife officials and restored protections for gray wolves in Wyoming but left intact a determination that the species has recovered and is not endangered or threatened “in a significant portion” of its northern Rocky Mountains range. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had declared that the gray wolf had recovered from near extinction by humans and delisted it from the endangered species list in August 2012. The move, which the agency had declared to be “a major success,” transferred control from federal to state officials a month later. Yet U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that it was “arbitrary and capricious” for the agency to rely on Wyoming’s “non-binding promises to maintain a particular number of wolves when the availability of that specific numerical buffer was such a critical aspect of the delisting decision.”

Lawyers representing the state of Wyoming and the federal government filed notices this week that they will appeal the ruling. 

Congress has previously stated that there could be no legal challenges to decisions to end federal protection for wolves in Idaho and Montana. However, a great deal of Wyoming residents believe the wolf population in the state needs to be actively managed in order to minimize the conflict between livestock and game species and the wolves. 

Wyoming has been fighting Washington over delisting since 2003, objecting to the federal standards and putting forth its own plan for managing wolf populations. This has placed them at odds with environmental groups and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Despite the intention to appeal, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead recently stated that he believes that congressional action holds the best chance for resolving the long-running dispute over manage wolves in the state.

"To state it as simply as possible, we're trying to cover all bases," Mead said in regards to the state's notice that it will appeal Jackson's ruling.

Mead added that his administration is working in conjunction with the state's congressional delegation on legislation that would relinquish control of wolf management to Wyoming and even prohibit any further legal challenges.

Under the proposal that was rejected by Jackson in the fall, Wyoming had partitioned the state into two zones. In a flexible area surrounding Yellowstone, trophy hunting was allowed and the number of wolves killed would be controlled by license sales. In the remainder of the state, wolves would be left unprotected. 

Under federal management, trophy hunting is not permitted. 

Jackson’s ruling squelched the state’s plan to allow hunters to harvest a maximum total of 43 wolves starting in October. Tim Preso, an attorney with Earthjustice who represented Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, said that his clients are prepared to defend the ruling by Jackson. 

Preso argues that if Wyoming is serious about restoring state wolf management, it should focus on fixing the flaws in its strategy rather than challenging the judge’s ruling. 

The attorney adds that the confirmation of a female gray wolf that was able to travel from the Northern Rockies to the Grand Canyon area shows that wolves have the ability to return to their native habitats on their own if humans do not disrupt their journey.  

"The big issue that we had with Wyoming's plan was it provided too many opportunities for people to kill wolves with little to nothing in the way of limits on that in most of the state," explains Preso. "In the rest of the state there were a lot of things that really weren't nailed down by way of conservation promises."


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