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NBCMontana.com, July 25, 2011

Wolf Hunt Up In The Air As Judge Prepares To Hear Arguments
By Alissa Irei

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MISSOULA, Mont. -- The 2011 wolf hunt may be off -- depending on what happens in Judge Don Molloy's court room this week. If the groups filing suit against the federal government have their way, the wolves would be reinstated to the endangered species list.

The last time the wolf issue showed up in Molloy's court, his decision did put Montana's wolves back on the endangered species list. He ruled that removing an animal from the list must be an all-or-nothing deal -- happening in all 50 states, or not at all. At the time, wolves had been delisted in Montana and Idaho, but not Wyoming.

"Therefore Fish and Wildlife's decision to remove protections from the wolves is illegal, and protections need to be restored,"said Noah Greenwald, of the Center for Biological Diversity.

So the Montana and Idaho wolves were back on the list and back under federal protection, until Congress passed legislation telling Fish and Wildlife to delist them once again, this time without the possibility of judicial review. Wolf advocates call that a gross legislative overreach, and they're taking that argument to federal court.

"This is totally unprecedented," Greenwald said. "This is the first time that Congress has ever stepped in and decided that a species should or should not be protected under the Endangered Species Act."

Some Montanans who support the congressional rider plan to protest at the courthouse during the hearing -- handing out literature in support of wolf hunting.

"We don't feel that wildlife management should be decided in a courtroom," wolf hunting advocate Toby Bridges said.

Bridges says that high wolf numbers are decimating big game, endangering livestock and hurting the economy.

"We have professionals who understand wildlife management and wildlife biology," he said. "And these groups -- these environmental groups -- want to supersede that."

But those environmental groups say the wolf threat is overstated.

"Studies since wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park have found that wolves play a tremendous role in the web of life, and that they have benefit for many species," Greenwald said.

But the central issue in front of Judge Molloy isn't wolf behavior, but Congressional behavior. His ruling will hinge on whether Congress violated the separation of powers doctrine by using its legislative power to override his earlier decision.

Federal government attorneys were unavailable to comment.

Copyright © 2011 Bonten Media Group

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton