By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

In a last minute move anticipated and decried by environmentalists, the Bush Administration has removed a large segment of the Rocky Mountain gray wolves and western Great Lakes gray wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Interior Department officials cited the wolves’ recovery in those areas, saying that the animals populate those areas in sufficient numbers to survive without being listed as endangered (in the case of the Rocky Mountain packs) or threatened (the Great Lakes wolves).

“Wolves have recovered in the Great Lakes and the northern Rocky Mountains because of the hard work, cooperation and flexibility shown by States, tribes, conservation groups, federal agencies and citizens of both regions,” stated a Wednesday USFWS press release.

“We can all be proud of our various roles in saving this icon of the American wilderness.”

The newly “saved” wolves, however, will now be subject to hunting, like other big game under the control of state fish and wildlife agencies.

That means that plans to allow big game hunting of wolves in Montana and Idaho can go forward, once the delisting takes effect in 30 days after the required notices are placed in the Federal Register.  The wolves in Wyoming are to remain listed under the Endangered Species Act because that state’s plan for them was not considered adequate to sustain a federal target of 300 wolves for that state.

“While the Service has approved wolf management plans in Montana and Idaho, it has determined that Wyoming’s state law and wolf management plan are not sufficient to conserve Wyoming’s portion of a recovered northern Rocky Mountain wolf population,” stated a press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The USFWS considers Montana’s and Idaho’s plans to maintain target wolf populations of 400 wolves and 500 wolves, respectively, to be up to the task.

Environmentalists that have fought the delisting of the Rocky Mountain Wolves, which are estimated to number about 1,500, expressed outrage over this parting shot from the Bush Administration and pounced on the difficulty of separating wolf management by state lines.

“This move is not viable legally, politically, or biologically,” said Andrew Wetzler, Director of NRDC’s Endangered Species Project. “They have actually come up with a strategy that will anger everyone from ranchers and the states, to the conservation community. This simply gets in the way of finding a real solution.”

“Wolves don’t read maps,” noted Dr. Sylvia Fallon, an NRDC Staff Scientist. “We agree that Wyoming’s plan is inadequate, but you cannot have protections start and stop at state lines.”