States, conservation groups set for wolf hearing |

States, conservation groups set for wolf hearing

Ben Neary
The Associated Press
Aspen CO, Colorado

CHEYENNE, Wyo. ” A federal judge this week will hear a request from environmental groups to restore federal management over wolves in the Northern Rockies.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy has scheduled a hearing for Thursday in Missoula, Mont. Environmental groups have asked him to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to resume management of the estimated 1,500 wolves in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

If the judge grants the request, the federal wildlife agency could take over wolf management until the judge ultimately decides the groups’ lawsuit.

The federal government transferred responsibility for wolf management to the states this spring. In their lawsuit, the environmental groups charge that the states’ management plans will not ensure wolves are not again eradicated from the region.

The federal government reintroduced wolves in the region in the 1990s. Scores of wolves have been killed since the states took over management this spring.

“Obviously, what we’re trying to do is get some breathing room between the proposed state management plans, or hunting plans, and a chance for the judge to hear our case on the question of delisting,” said Franz Camenzind, a biologist and head of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance ” one of the organizations challenging the delisting decision.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission last week adopted a wolf hunting season that calls for killing 518 of the animals this year. The state estimates its wolf population will reach roughly 1,000 animals by this summer.

In Wyoming, wolves are classified as predators in most of the state and may be shot on sight. The state also proposes to allow licensed hunters to kill 25 wolves in the northwest corner of the state this fall and is accepting comments on that proposal.

Montana also plans hunts for the animals.

All three states are fighting the environmental groups’ request for the injunction. The states maintain that wolf hunting is necessary because wolves are killing increasing numbers of game animals and also frequently preying on livestock.

However, Camenzind said the states can’t be trusted. He said Idaho’s planned wolf hunting season is exactly the type of situation his and the other groups are trying to avoid.

Camenzind said the Idaho game commission “essentially signed a death warrant for one third of all the wolves in the Northern Rockies population.”

“We feel that just goes against good conservation, good biology, good management,” Camenzind said of the planned Idaho hunt.

Doug Honnold, a lawyer in Bozeman, Mont., represents the environmental groups.

“We’re trying to get an injunction, obviously, to stop the level of wolf killing that would be authorized under state management,” Honnold said. “There are not sufficient safeguards under state laws to avoid a substantial reduction in the numbers and distribution of wolves in the Northern Rockies.”

Eric Keszler, spokesman for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said Friday that 16 wolves have been killed in the state’s designated predator area since the state took over management of wolves this spring. He said the state is investigating the illegal poaching of another wolf in Wyoming’s trophy management area.

Keszler said Wyoming believes it should manage wolves because it’s a state responsibility, the same as managing other wildlife.

“Wyoming can manage wolves in a way that makes sense for Wyoming much better than the federal government can,” he said. “There’s lots of wolves throughout the recovery area, as you know, five times as many as were in the original recovery goals. It doesn’t make sense to keep them on the endangered species list, in light of all that.”

Keszler said that when the federal government set about to restore the wolf population, it called for establishing a total of about 300 animals, including 30 breeding pairs, in the Northern Rockies.

Wyoming Deputy Attorney General Jay Jerde will argue for the state against the groups’ request for the injunction.

“We spent a great deal of time and effort to come up with a wolf statute and a wolf plan to protect the gray wolf in Wyoming, and protect the wolf population as we go forward and the wolf is delisted,” Jerde said. “There is no factual or legal basis in our opinion for the injunction to be issued.”

Several other groups have intervened in the lawsuit. In addition to the three states, stockgrowers’ associations from Montana and Wyoming and pro-hunting groups have entered the case.

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