Montana FWP: Court Decision Makes Wolf Management Impossible

“As a result of the recent federal court decision, we are left with no way to actively manage wolves as a Montana wildlife species,” said Joe Maurier, director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in a press release. “The wolf is recovered. More than 500 wolves live in Montana. Wolves are not the enemy, and there is a place in Montana for them, but wolves have to be managed just like other wildlife. Right now we can’t do that.”

On Aug. 6 U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy ruled that a government plan to remove protection for the gray wolf from only part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem was unlawful and ordered the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to grant it full protection.

The lawsuit was prompted by a decision by FWS to delist the gray wolf in Montana and Idaho but leaving it protected in Wyoming, giving the FWP power to “manage” the local population. While that might have been a “pragmatic” solution to the difficult issue of protecting wolves in an area where many residents oppose such a status, it’s not lawful to do so, Molloy ruled.

This ends a practice initiated by the Bush Administration to partly delist species, ignoring factors like total population in the entire ecosystem. Groups like the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, one of several conservation groups initiating the lawsuit, argue that delisting must be done when considered on the broader level.

“The absence of any true ability to manage wolves means that Montana’s wolf population will continue to grow and impacts to livestock growers and to Montana’s wildlife herds will grow more severe,” Maurier said. “It’s disappointing, when FWP and the people of Montana have worked so hard and done everything we were asked to do, to see a legal technicality upend the intent of the Endangered Species Act, which is to recover a species.”

Montana will appeal the decision while also seeking a settlement with the 13 conservation groups filing the original lawsuit.

But Maurier and other state officials may have the wrong target in their crosshairs. It was the Bush Administration that began to partially delist species by area. And much of the crisis can be laid directly at the feet of Wyoming officials, who refused to come to any agreement with Montana and Idaho officials on a management plan: the state’s notion of wolf “management” is shoot on sight. If Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department folks really wanted a deal, the first place to look is Wyoming — not to the conservation groups bringing the lawsuit.

RELATED STORIES: Reaction to Wolf Legal Decision: It Depends on Your Point of View; Judge: Wolves Are Again Protected as Endangered; Yellowstone Wolf Numbers Down To Lowest Levels Since 1999; NPS Calls Dive “Natural”

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