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Aug 092010

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

The Rocky Mountain gray wolves are back on the Endangered Species List after a federal judge ruled last week that the government did not follow the law in removing the wolves from federal protections last year.

The new ruling means that the wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho that claimed 260 wolves during the 2009-2010 hunting season will not resume this fall.

Environmental groups had fought the delisting, which was made official in April 2009, because they believe the wolves — reintroduced into the region in the 1990s — are not fully recovered and need continued protection.

A coalition of environmental groups argued to the court that the 2009 delisting did not follow the rules of the ESA, because it removed protections for the wolves in Montana and Idaho, but left the wolves in Wyoming listed as endangered. The judge agreed that subdividing the populations of naturally connected wolves was illegal according to ESA requirements.

With the ruling, all the wolves in the U.S., are now under federal protections, included those in the Great Lakes and the Southwest.

“We’re thrilled that wolves, all wolves, are back on the Endangered Species Lists,” said Matt Skoglund, a wildlife advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, echoing the sentiments of many others in the 13 groups that fought for the wolves in court.

Earthjustice led the legal case, backed by the NRDC, Sierra Club, The Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Western Watersheds Project, Wildlands Network, and Hells Canyon Preservation Council.

The new decision opens the way for the federal government to revise its recovery plan for the wolves, which has set 300 wolves (with 30 breeding pairs) as a bare minimum for sustaining the population.

Environmentalists believe a population that small, spread across the Northwest, would endanger the wolves’ long-term survival.

The best science suggests that a sustainable population would number at least 2,000 wolves, Skoglund said. And according to a news statement from the coalition, the wolf population could need to be as high as 5,000 in the region.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s delisting in 2009 was preceded by an effort in 2008 to delist the wolves, and there has been court wrangling over the issue throughout the past decade. Opponents of protecting the wolves have argued that they are predators and a nuisance to ranchers. While proponents have pointed out that ranchers can report livestock kills by wolves, and apply for compensation. Meanwhile, there’s pressure from hunters to have a wolf season.

Throughout the charged debates, suits and counter-actions, wildlife advocates have maintained that the federal government needs a more realistic plan for helping the wolves survive, a plan in which packs can intermingle across distances (which requires sufficient numbers of wolves), thereby maintaining a strong genetic line and serving their niche as top predators in the food chain.
“This is the sixth court ruling invalidating removal of Endangered Species Act protections for wolves,” said Michael Robinson, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“It’s time for the Obama administration to step back from removing wolf protections until they’ve been recovered in a larger portion of their range, including additional areas like the southern Rocky Mountains, Cascade Mountains and elsewhere.”

Those fighting for the wolves have also noted that they are not only valuable to hunters, but vital to maintaining a healthy eco-system, and an even bigger draw to tourists, who flock to the Yellowstone area to view the animals.

“In addition to attracting tourists and boosting the economy, wolves are an important part of America’s wild legacy and living with wolves and other wildlife is a fundamental part of life in the West,” said Sierra Club’s Montana spokesman Bob Clark.

The U.S. government has not announced whether it will revise the wolves’ overall protection plan by raising the minimum numbers or appeal Friday’s ruling.  Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Tom Strickland has said in a statement that the Idaho and Montana wolves will remain protected until Wyoming’s “has instituted an adequate management program, similar to those of Idaho and Montana.” The USFWS did not consider Wyoming’s previous plan to be workable. It required only a small number of breeding pairs to survive. Critics say it treated wolves much as the law treats coyotes, as open game.

For now, many advocates are breathing a sigh of relief that the wolves may have narrowly escaped another bloody hunting season.

“This decision is great news for wolves in the northern Rockies, and a strong rebuke for those who would rather see wolves persecuted than protected,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation with The Humane Society of the United States. “The government’s decision to delist wolves would have led to widespread killings by trophy hunters, undermined wildlife conservation, and set the stage for the hunting and trapping of other imperiled species.”

Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Aug 252009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

It would almost be easier to spot a Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf than to follow the legal wrangling around these once-endangered, recently delisted and soon-to-be-hunted predators.

A quick recap: After a few years of back and forth with environmentalists who argued that the wolves needed continued federal protection, the Bush Administration delisted the animals – took them off the Endangered Species List – in 2008. Enviros sued and a federal court agreed that delisting was premature and that the 1,500 or so wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were not at sustainable levels. The wolves were restored to endangered status.

But…the Bush Administration continued to refine its case, and again de-listed the wolves. This came as a parting shot in January 2009.

Enter the Obama Administration. Enviro groups anticipated that the new liberal leadership in Washington would restore the Rocky Mountain wolves to protected status (put them back on the Endangered Species list). Instead, the case of the wolves became an apparent sacrificial lamb to ranchers and conservatives who have a checkered history with the predators, blaming them for cattle and lamb losses.

And so, the Rocky Mountain Gray Wolves, having gone extinct in the U.S. during the mid-20th Century because of over-hunting (they were reintroduced in Yellowstone in the 1990s) remained delisted — and eligible as big game.

The hunting begins next week in Idaho and Sept. 15 in Montana and conservationists are back in court trying to stop the blood-letting.

Environmental groups asked a federal judge to stop the planned hunts in Idaho and Montana, arguing that the wolf populations will be irretrievably damaged by the hunting, jeopardizing their ability to breed, connect between packs and sustain their numbers.

“At a point when we are so close to having a truly restored wolf population, the state of Idaho is going to issue an unlimited number of wolf tags to eliminate 30 percent of the state’s wolf population,” said Louisa Willcox, a senior wildlife advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in  a statement.

“As a top predator, these creatures are vital to the health of the northern Rockies ecosystem, but many of the ecological improvements that we’ve seen as a result of their reintroduction to the region will be imperiled by the Idaho and Montana hunts. While we are not against hunting, we are against conducting them prematurely, and in such a reckless and counterproductive manner.”

Idaho has authorized the killing of 220 wolves in a wolf hunt opening Sept. 1. State officials say the hunt will help them manage the state’s estimated 1,000 wolves and “learn how public hunting fits into managing wolves”.

But environmentalists say the sport shootings will wipe out one-third of the states wolf population, which they estimate at about 875 wolves (as of December 2008).

Montana will be allowing hunters to take 75 wolves, starting Sept. 15, or about 15 percent of the state’s population.

The groups opposed to the wolf hunting include Earthjustice, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the NRDC and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Humane Society of the United States also has registered a complaint, with this statement from Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation:

“The recent announcements by the states of Idaho and Montana to institute hunts to significantly reduce the population of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies makes clear that the federal government’s decision to turn management of wolves over to these states is premature, and unlikely to ensure their survival. The federal government’s efforts to strip wolves of all federal protection have been repeatedly struck down by the courts, and this latest rule is no more likely to succeed than the previous failed attempts.”

The federal government has argued that its restoration plan always called for the eventual return to state management of the predators. Environmentalists, however, say that the feds have set target wolf population levels too low. They point out that traffic accidents and legal shootings by ranchers will add to the toll of wolf deaths, threatening the species’ survival in the US. (Canada’s populations are much larger.)

Idaho has argued that it will try to manage the wolves to remain at a population of around 500, which enviros still say is too low.

The environmental groups also believe that the hunting is ill-timed, coming after a hard winter that claimed many wolves in the Yellowstone National Park where there was a 27 percent decline in the wolf population, the largest since they were reintroduced to the area.

They fear that the low maintenance numbers mandated by the US Fish & Wildlife Service will impede the wolves’ ability to inter-breed across packs and remain genetically vigorous.

Ironically, the state deemed most inhospitable to the wolves, Wyoming, will not be arranging a gray wolf hunt this fall. The wolves are still under federal protection in Wyoming because a federal court has ruled that Wyoming’s hostile wolf-management scheme leaves wolves in “serious jeopardy.”

The USFWS has said that a state-by-state approach to delisting wolves was not permitted under the Endangered Species Act, but the federal government reversed its position.

(Photo credit: USFWS, Gary Kramer.)

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Jan 212009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Amid the fanfare of the inauguration, President Barack Obama went to work on Tuesday, and among his first acts was to stop pending last-minute regulation changes by his predecessor.

The move gave the endangered Rocky Mountain Gray Wolves yet another reprieve in the arduous, years-long battle over whether or not they should continue to receive federal protection.

In recent months, the Bush Administration has pushed through a succession of new rules and regulations, many aimed at environmental projects, trying to beat the clock on its expiring reign. (It’s not an unusual game. Bill Clinton also made many last minute changes – that were later stopped by Bush.)

These Bush Administration tinkerings aimed to keep some of Bush’s and Vice President Dick Cheney’s pet ideas alive by empowering federal agencies to bypass certain scientific review requirements for developments in forests, near power plants and dams; conscripting the Endangered Species Act so it cannot be used to fight global warming and overturning a ban on loaded firearms in national parks. Continue reading »