Wyoming wolves return to Endangered Species List

February 23rd, 2015 | Hunting Sidebar

Environmentalists rejoiced this morning while Wyoming leaders, ranchers and others hung their heads as the gray wolf returned to the endangered species list on a “technicality.”

The action taken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was to comply with a U.S. District Court order from September 23 of last year. The court said at the time that “it was arbitrary and capricious for the [Fish and Wildlife] Service to rely on the state’s nonbinding promises to maintain a particular number of wolves when the availability of that specific numerical buffer was such a critical aspect of the delisting decision.”

While Wyoming tried to up its game on promising to hold to the numbers with an emergency action, Judge Amy Berman Jackson stuck to her guns on the ruling.

The action today immediately turns the clock back to April 2009 rules which had the wolf protected under the Endangered Species Act and the 20-year-old nonessential experimental population rule (50 CFR 17.84(i)).

“Thus, at present, the service will continue to be the lead management agency for wolves throughout most of Wyoming,” Fish and Wildlife acknowledged in a brief on the throwback.

The move effectively throws out Wyoming’s management plan, which included the ability for anyone to shoot a wolf on sight throughout much of the state while other areas were managed with hunting licenses.

Wolves had only been off the Endangered Species List since 2012, and now in Wyoming they return to being a “nonessential experimental population,” meaning the wolves can’t even be taken by ranchers who could be losing cattle.

“I’d encourage those who think wolves need more federal protections to spend a day in the field with ranchers and outfitters to see the impact of wolves up close and personal,” said U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi when the federal court first ruled against Wyoming’s management practices last year.

Still, the relisting isn’t universal. While gray wolves in all of Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio return to the Endangered Species List unconditionally, the rule doesn’t affect the status of gray wolves in Montana, Idaho, the eastern third of Washington and Oregon and north-central Utah. Those wolves will continue to be managed by states.

Some U.S. lawmakers are trying to seek a corrective course for the action legislatively. U.S. Rep Cynthia Lummis said last week she had introduces a bipartisan wolf bill that would return the gray wolf to state management in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes region.

“The science speaks for itself—the gray wolf in Wyoming and the Western Great Lakes are fully recovered,” Lummis said in an email. “I think it is high time to codify these federal rulemakings, recognize what should be a conservation success story and return wolf management to the states’ capable hands.”

Environmentalists beg to differ.

“The gray wolf is recovered in less than 10 percent of its historic range and facing continued persecution,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity in a release this morning. “The courts got it right: Gray wolves clearly continue to need the protection of the Endangered Species Act.”

He went on to say that he thinks the legislative fix is a way to flout the law and would mark the first time Congress has undermined the Endangered Species Act.

“Inserting politics into what should be a science-based decision is a dangerous trend that could lead to Congress stepping in every time a species becomes inconvenient to powerful special interests,” Greenwald said.

Of course, scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contend that it was a science-based decision to delist the wolves in the first place since the species had recovered and populations for elk and other large mammals were on the wane with the waxing wolf population.

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