Northern Rockies Wolves Temporarily Back on Endangered List

MISSOULA, Montana, July 21, 2008 (ENS) – A federal judge has issued a temporary injunction restoring gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains to the endangered species list and halting the indiscrimate killing of wolves for the duration of a trial in which conservationist plaintiffs contest the removal of the wolves from the protected list.

The case involves 12 plaintiff conservation organizations against defendant U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the governments of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, and livestock and trophy hunting organizations that have intervened on the side of the government.

Dozens of wolves have been shot since March 28, 2008, when wolves in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and parts of Oregon, Washington and Washington lost the protections of the Endangered Species Act.

In his order granting the injunction handed down on Friday, Judge Molloy wrote, “This case, like a cloud larger than a man’s hand, will hang over the northwest states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming until there has been a final determination of the complex issues presented. Those issues must be answered in accordance with the intent of Congress as stated in the Endangered Species Act and its implementing regulations.”

Wolf in Yellowstone National Park
(Photo by Tut99)

In order to be granted the injunction, plaintiff groups had to demonstrate to Federal Judge Donald Molloy that they were likely to succeed on the merits of their claims, and that irreparable injury was occuring to the wolves during adjudication of the case.

The judge ruled that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the majority of the claims relied upon in their request for a preliminary injunction.

“In particular,” wrote Judge Molloy, “(1) the Fish & Wildlife Service acted arbitrarily in delisting the wolf despite a lack of evidence of genetic exchange between subpopulations; and (2) it acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it approved Wyoming’s 2007 plan despite the State’s failure to commit to managing for 15 breeding pairs and the plan’s malleable trophy game area. In both instances, the Fish & Wildlife Service altered its earlier position without providing a reasoned decision for the change.”

“The wolf slaughter is halted,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re elated. This injunction will give the wolves a fighting chance.”

“Recovery requires allowing wolves in different populations to reach each other in order to mate and raise their pups,” said Robinson. “Even before they were unlawfully removed from the endangered species list, the government was gunning down so many wolves that the Yellowstone population was reproductively isolated, a recipe for extinction.”

Gray wolves were exterminated from the western United States by the Fish and Wildlife Service and its predecessor agencies between 1915 and 1945, on behalf of the livestock industry.

Passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 led to placement of wolves on the endangered species list, development of a recovery plan, and reintroduction of wolves to the northern Rocky Mountains in 1995.

Suzanne Asha Stone, northern Rockies wolf conservation specialist for Defenders of Wildlife, said, “The delisting of wolves was inappropriate and illegal in large part because existing state management plans are inadequate to ensure the long term conservation of wolves in the region, allowing far too many wolves to be unnecessarily killed.”

“Responsible, balanced management by the states would benefit wolves, ranchers, hunters and all Northern Rockies residents,” said Stone. “While the court continues to weigh our challenge to the delisting decision, we will continue to work to improve the current state plans so that they maintain a healthy wolf population.”

The public interest law firm 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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