Defenders wins lawsuit; future of wolf recovery still uncertain
- U.S. district court overturns Interior Secretary Salazar’s action that removed wolves in the Northern Rockies from the endangered species list
- Ruling makes it clear that subdividing a wild population based on political boundaries rather than science violates the Endangered Species Act
- Defenders calls for update of science and regional stakeholder collaboration to ensure continued wolf recovery and proper removal of federal protections
On August 5, 2010, A U.S. District court today overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) decision to remove gray wolves in the Northern Rockies from the endangered species list. The court sided with Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation organizations that sued to restore federal protections.
The following is a statement by Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife:
“This decision is a significant victory for wolves, for the integrity of the Endangered Species Act, and for all Americans who care deeply about conservation. The court’s ruling makes it clear that decisions under the Endangered Species Act should be based on science, not politics.
“We all need to work together to craft responsible state management plans for wolves that allow for healthy, interconnected wolf populations now and in the future. For that to happen, regional recovery goals will need to be updated based on the best available peer reviewed science.
“Secretary Salazar’s support of the Bush administration’s proposal to remove protections for wolves was premature and clearly inconsistent with the law. Had the federal government prevailed in the lawsuit, real wolf recovery would have been set back for perhaps decades. Worse, the precedent of the federal government making listing and delisting decisions for endangered species based upon political boundaries rather than science would have crippled the Interior Department’s future management of the Endangered Species Act to the detriment of many species. The faulty effort by the administration to delist has set back legitimate delisting by some time.
“We are eager to work cooperatively with all stakeholders to find a way forward to ensure continued recovery of wolves in the Northern Rockies and their eventual delisting.”
The following is a statement by Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies representative with Defenders of Wildlife:
“While we are pleased by the restoration of federal protection for wolves, the court’s decision demonstrates the problems inherent in the federal government’s current delisting scheme. We need a new approach. We need a federal delisting plan that establishes a healthy, interconnected wolf population and adopts stakeholder-driven solutions to the current conflicts. It’s time to move beyond the gridlock over wolves. We are, as always, willing to work with the other stakeholders to seek solutions and a more rational, science based wolf delisting plan.
“Defenders of Wildlife has a long record of being responsive to the livestock community’s concerns, and we plan to continue that and to expand our ongoing proactive conservation work to minimize conflict between wolves and livestock owners, so there can be a place for wolves and livestock to co-exist on the landscape. Our work to date has shown that collaboration is possible when parties meet each other halfway. And we are willing to work with the states and other stakeholders to ensure that wolves and other imperiled wildlife are managed based on sound scientific principles.”
Wolves were eradicated from the region by the 1930s as part of an overall campaign to eliminate many of the native predators. With the adoption of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, efforts began to restore the Northern Rockies wolf population. Wolves dispersing across the Canadian border into northern Montana in the 1970s and 1980s were the first to return to their historic habitat in the region. By 1995, that population had grown to 60 – 70 wolves. To expedite wolf recovery, in 1995 and 1996 the US Fish and Wildlife Service captured 66 wolves from Canada and released them in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. Since that time, wolf numbers have increased to approximately 2,000 wolves in 2009, the same number that many biologists have estimated would be necessary for maintaining a recovered wolf population. However, that same year, Idaho and Montana initiated hunting seasons which reduced the wolf population down to 1650 wolves by the end of 2009. One immediate effect of today’s court ruling will be to cancel a second wolf hunting season in Montana and Idaho, which was set to begin this fall and would have decreased the population to even lower levels. State agencies will still be able to manage wolves, including removing problem wolves implicated in livestock conflicts or causing unnatural declines in game species.