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Conservationists Serve Notice of Lawsuit Over Wolf Delisting

WASHINGTON, DC, February 27, 2008 (ENS) – Eleven conservation groups fighting to protect wolves in the northern Rockies today notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the agency has violated the Endangered Species Act by removing the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population from the federal list of endangered species.

The groups put the agency on notice that they intend to challenge that decision in federal court.

The conservationists say wolves in the northern Rockies still are endangered due to genetic isolation, lack of interchange between wolves in Yellowstone, central Idaho, and northwestern Montana, and an insufficient number of wolves.

The decision to strip federal protection from this the wolf population, is “premature,” the conservationists say, and it “promises to undo the progress of recent years.”

Gray wolf populations were extirpated from the western U.S. by the 1930s by government agents, bounty hunters, and ranchers attempting to protect livestock.

Then the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 created a new atmosphere for wolf advocacy. After years of review and discussion in the 1970s and ’80s, gray wolves from Canada were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and Idaho in 1995 by the Fish and Wildlife Service.


Gray wolves in Montana (Photo courtesy Montana Field Guide)

By 1995, there were six packs in northwest Montana and wolves began to thrive in Wyoming at about the same time. The first den documented in Montana in over 50 years was found in Glacier National Park in 1986. Wolves have since colonized much of northwestern Montana as they have moved into the state from Canada and Glacier National Park.

Now the northern Rockies region is populated by about 1,500 wolves, but the conservationists say that number still falls short of the 2,000 to 5,000 wolves that independent scientists have determined to be necessary to secure the health of the species.

“In the past two decades, the wolves of the northern Rocky Mountains have made remarkable progress toward recovery. While this progress deserves celebration, it is not yet complete,” the coalition said in a statement.

In an effort to overturn the Service’s delisting rule before hundreds of wolves can be killed in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, the conservation groups served their letter of notice within hours of the publication of the delisting rule in the Federal Register today.

Under the delisting rule, on March 28, 2008 states will assume legal management authority of wolves in the northern Rockies.

“There is nothing in the state management schemes or delisting rule itself to prevent the killing of up to 80 percent of wolves in the northern Rockies. Attempts by the Fish and Wildlife Service to assure the public otherwise have no factual basis,” said Louisa Willcox of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The groups say state plans that will guide wolf management after delisting “betray the states’ continued hostility toward the presence of wolves in the region.”

While allowing wolves to be killed in defense of property or recreation, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana have refused to make enforceable commitments to maintaining viable wolf populations within their borders nor have they secured funding for essential monitoring and conservation efforts, relying on continued federal financing of all wolf-related activities even following delisting, the groups point out.

“We are concerned that Wyoming will strictly adhere to the language in the state legislation and aggressively eliminate wolves that now occupy Jackson Hole and parts of Grand Teton National Park. With Wyoming’s current plan, wolves two miles from Jackson’s Town Square could be killed by anyone at any time – this is reprehensible,” said Franz Camenzind of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

“As evidenced by the of state of Idaho’s proposals to aerial gun wolves in the Frank Church Wilderness and to kill up to 75 percent of the wolves on the Upper Lochsa while wolves remained protected, delisting at this time poses a great risk to the Northern Rockies wolf population, which is still recovering,” said Will Boyd, education director with Friends of the Clearwater.

“Just as disturbing as the state management plans that permit killing of hundreds of wolves is the expected increase in federal predator control, including ramped up aerial gunning, leghold traps and even poisoning of wolves,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Federal predator control on behalf of the livestock industry is what exterminated wolves in the first place, and that was before the era of helicopter sharpshooters pursuing radio-collared wolves,” said Robinson. “We will bring this alarming prospect to a court’s attention.”

Earthjustice submitted the notice letter on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands Project, and Western Watersheds Project.

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