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Northern Rocky Mountains Gray Wolf
Idaho Statesman, January 21, 2009

Wolf delisting decision placed on hold by Obama Administration
By Rocky Barker

The decision to remove Rocky Mountain gray wolves from the endangered species list — and return control to Idaho and neighboring states — is now on hold.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel signed a memorandum Tuesday sent to all agencies and departments to stop all pending regulations until a legal and policy review can be conducted by the Obama administration, the White House said in a statement.

The decision to delist wolves in Montana, Idaho, eastern Oregon, eastern Washington and northern Utah was scheduled to be published Jan. 27 and to go into effect 30 days later.

It could still be allowed to go forward, modified or held indefinitely, said Frank Quimby, an Interior Department spokesman. The review will be conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Quimby couldn’t estimate how long the review will take.

Sharon Rose, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman in Denver, said there was still a possibility the rule could go forward as scheduled.

"We'll have to wait and see what happens on the 27th," Rose said.

The Bush Administration announced Jan. 14 it would publish the decision to remove wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains and the Great Lakes from the endangered species list but leave them protected in Wyoming.

Thirteen environmental groups who had successfully stopped delisting in court earlier in 2008 said they would sue again if the rule went into effect. The pause will afford Interior Secretary Ken Salazar the opportunity to rethink the previous administration‚s efforts to remove wolves from the endangered species list, said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued.

"Rather than remove protections from wolves in a piecemeal fashion, in the isolated locations where they have finally begun to recover from past persecution," Robinson said, "the Obama administration should develop and implement a national gray-wolf recovery plan that will ensure the survival of these magnificent animals."

Idaho has from 700 to 1,100 wolves in the state, Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials estimate. The department's plan would allow hunting after delisting but would keep wolf numbers above 518.

Aides to Gov. Butch Otter urged state lawmakers Wednesday to be patient and give Salazar time to get his team in place to analyze the issue.

"The last thing the state of Idaho wants to do is punch him in the nose his first day in office," said Nate Fisher, director of Otter's Office of Species Conservation.

But that doesn't mean the state won‚t push to get the issue resolved soon.

"We can't wait indefinitely," Fisher said.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton