SAVING THE NORTHERN ROCKY MOUNTAINS GRAY WOLF
Thanks mostly to federal predator control and conflicts with the livestock industry, the gray wolf was extirpated from the West by 1945. Today, after centuries of fear and superstition, research has given the wolf a new image as a social creature with an indispensible role in ecosystems — and Endangered Species Act protection gave it a new chance to thrive. Unfortunately, the beautiful carnivore is still persecuted by federal predator control and poachers, and wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains have been removed from the endangered species list — even with a long way to go before recovery.
A bad blow to northern Rockies wolves came in February 2008, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would remove their federal protections, leaving wolf management to individual states that refused to take the animal’s conservation seriously. Immediately after the announcement took effect, wolves began falling victim to bullets — so a coalition of groups, including the Center, filed suit. In July, after 100-plus northern Rockies wolves had already been indiscriminately shot, a judge temporarily restored the wolves to the endangered species list — and in September, the Service withdrew from the suit. Just before the Bush administration left office, it announced a rule to strip protections from gray wolves in the Rockies and the Midwest — and though the rule was halted when President Barack Obama took office, in March 2009 the Service moved forward with delisting the wolves anyway. The Center and allies filed suit in June, and in August 2010 a judge reinstated protections for all northern Rockies wolves, preventing wolf hunting from going forward in Montana and Idaho.
But in April 2011 Congress put a rider on a must-pass budget bill that stripped Endangered Species Act protections from wolves in all of Montana and Idaho, the eastern third of Washington and Oregon, and a small portion of northern Utah — an unprecedented action that, for the first time in the history of the Act, removed a species from the endangered list by political fiat instead of science. Given license to kill by the feds, both Montana and Idaho have wolf plans that call for drastic reductions in wolf populations, primarily by allowing hunts. Wolves have only begun to recover in the other states covered by the legislation, which may have the effect of stifling further recovery. And in April 2012, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that Wyoming passed legislation and an amendment to its wolf-management plan that would meet federal approval and trigger removal of Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the state. Those protections were removed in August of that year. The next month, the Center and allies filed a notice of intent to sue, and we sued in November 2012.
In fact, genetic isolation threatens all gray wolves, whose three main populations — in the northern Rockies, upper Midwest and Southwest — are small and disconnected. To spur true, nationwide gray wolf recovery, in July 2010 the Center petitioned the Obama administration for a national recovery plan to establish wolf populations in suitable habitat in the Pacific Northwest, California, Great Basin, southern Rocky Mountains, Great Plains and New England.
Contact: Michael Robinson
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