The delisting is only partial, which explains why opposition to it is rising. It would leave the gray wolf in Wyoming with a protected status, while removing that status in Montana and Idaho.
On one side: the state of Wyoming and the “Wolf Coalition,” a group of state businesspeople, conservationists and stockmen, who oppose leaving the gray wolf on any sort of protected endangered-species list. Their complaint is that Wyoming is not being allowed to set its own rules about status: the state wants to classify the wolf as a predator in most of the state and as a trophy game animal within the greater Yellowstone area. In other words, if a wolf wanders off the farm, it’s fair game. The coalition is also arguing the USFWS is not hewing to the original terms of the Endangered Species Act: once the wolves reached a specific population, they should automatically be tossed from the endangered list.
“The deal from the beginning was that the gray wolf would be introduced into and managed in the Yellowstone area,” Wolf Coalition attorney Harriet Hageman of Cheyenne said in a press release. “The USFWS is now trying to force Wyoming to adopt a management plan that ensures that the wolves move throughout the state. That is directly contrary to everything that the (agency) told us when they brought the wolves into Yellowstone.”
On the other side are conservationists, including the National Natural Resources Defense Council, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and 10 other organizations, who argue target populations have not been met, so protection should be continued and not scaled back.
The new rules came after a lawsuit filed last summer by conservation groups, who argued the plan to allow states oversight on wolf populations was akin to an extermination plan, not a wildlife-management plan. Missoula-based U.S. District Judge Donald Malloy agreed and ordered a new set of rules be drawn up.
On the one hand, it’s hard to argue the wolf has made a remarkable comeback in the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. According to the latest estimates, 1,531 wolves in 95 packs roam the territory. The vast majority of those wolves are in Montana (500) and Idaho (850), leaving only 250 or so wolves in Wyoming, including Yellowstone. That far exceeds the original goals of at least 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves per state.
Part of the dispute comes as to how the wolves are counted; the USFWS is now saying 70 wolves and seven breeding pairs must be in Wyoming outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Apparently there are not, according to USFWS estimates; hence the need to protect the wolves on an endangered-species list. The Coalition, on the other hand, says there are 188 wolves in 25 packs living outside Yellowstone. Other estimates are lower, though there’s been reports of new wolf packs in the Gros Ventre River drainage area, according to a report issued today.
The bottom line: expect a summer of suits and countersuits as yet another plan is tested in court.
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