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Conservationists Pursue Legal Protection for Northern Rockies Wolves

MISSOULA, Montana, April 29, 2008 (ENS) – Twelve conservation groups Monday filed a lawsuit in federal court here challenging the federal government’s decision to remove the northern Rockies gray wolf population from the list of endangered species. Management of this population of wolves is now in the hands of three states – Wyoming, Idaho and Montana – that the groups claim are hostile to the presence of wolves.

Wolves should not have been delisted, the groups argue, because they remain “threatened by biased, inadequate state management plans, as well as by the lack of connections between largely isolated state wolf populations.”

Wolf control laws in the three states have resulted in a wave of new wolf killings since delisting in March.

“The recent senseless and indiscriminate killings of wolves in Wyoming and Idaho clearly highlight the serious problems of the current state plans,” said Suzanne Asha Stone of Defenders of Wildlife, one of the plaintiff groups.

“Wolves need to be managed responsibly under plans that are based on current and reliable science. Running wolves down with snowmobiles and shooting the exhausted animals is not management – it’s far too extreme and unsustainable,” she said.

The groups argue that the decision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to strip the protections of the Endangered Species Act from the northern Rocky Mountains’ wolves was premature and will undo the hard-earned progress toward wolf recovery of recent years.

The region’s population of 1,500 wolves still falls short of the numbers that independent scientists have determined to be necessary to secure the health of the species in the northern Rockies, the groups point out in their lawsuit.

At present, wolves in central Idaho, northwestern Montana, and the Greater Yellowstone area remain largely disconnected from each other and wolves in Canada. The wolves of the Greater Yellowstone area, in particular, have remained genetically isolated since 31 wolves were introduced into Yellowstone National Park more than a decade ago, the groups say.

Delisting further endangers wolves because of increased wolf killing, reduced wolf numbers, and less genetic exchange between wolf populations. Yet, the groups maintain, with continued recovery efforts, real wolf recovery in the region is within reach.

While ensuring that wolves can and will 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.

The states have failed to keep track of recent wolf killings and have also neglected to secure funding for essential monitoring and conservation efforts, the groups argue.

Actions by the states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, and by individuals since wolves were delisted demonstrate the need to resume federal safeguards for wolves until state plans are in place that ensure a sustainable wolf population in the region.

On the day delisting took effect, March 28, 2008, Idaho Governor Butch Otter signed into law a new Idaho law allowing Idaho citizens to kill wolves without a permit whenever wolves are annoying, disturbing, or “worrying” livestock or domestic animals.

Since delisting, Wyoming has implemented its “kill on sight” predator law in nearly 90 percent of the state.

“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 with 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.”

“Idaho wins the prize for wanting to kill the most wolves,” said John Grandy, PhD, senior vice president of The Humane Society of the United States. “Wyoming wins for the most blatant hostility toward wolves enshrined in state law. And Montana wears the crown for killing the most wolves 8 of the last 10 years despite having the smallest wolf population of all three states.”

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit 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, Western Watersheds Project, and Wildlands Project.

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