Groups Seek To Overturn Decision To Delist Wolves In Wyoming

Not two weeks after Interior Department officials announced their decision to remove Endangered Species Act protection from wolves throughout most of Wyoming, a handful of conservation groups has announced its intention to sue the government over the move.

The groups -- Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club -- announced Monday that attorneys for Earthjustice would seek a court order on their behalf to overturn the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Fish and Wildlife Service publicly announced the delisting of wolves in Wyoming on August 31, but the agency’s delisting rule was not officially published in the Federal Register until Monday.

Wyoming officials, who would be handed management of wolves at the end of September, have announced plans to open a hunting season for the predators on Oct. 1, with as many as 52 wolves permitted to be killed in the northwestern part of Wyoming. Outside of the state's northwestern corner wolves could be killed on sight as predators, with no bag limit.

Under the delisting decision, wolves in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks would continue to be safe from hunters as long as they didn't leave the parks. No similar hunting prohibition covers the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway that is sandwiched by the two parks, although Wyoming officials don't intend to issue permits for that area this year. Park Service officials have said they are confident they can reach agreement with Wyoming officials to place the Parkway out of hunters' sights permanently.

Nevertheless, the delisting decision was not welcomed in conservation circles.

"Wyoming's wolf management plan is poor policy, weak in its protection of wolves, and is based on flimsy science," said Franz Camenzind, a retired Ph.D. wildlife biologist who lives in the Jackson Hole area. "Wyoming's plan sets a very disturbing precedent for other states by abdicating management responsibility of a native wildlife species over nearly 90 percent of the state."

“Wyoming’s anti-wolf policies take the state backward, to the days when wolf massacres nearly wiped out wolves in the lower-48 states. Our nation rejected such predator extermination efforts when we adopted the Endangered Species Act,” said Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has turned its back on Wyoming wolves, but we intend to ask the federal courts to make sure that wolves on the border of Yellowstone—our nation’s first national park—have the protections they need to thrive.”

“We will not stand by while the Obama administration allows Wyoming to eradicate wolves through an extreme shoot-on-sight predator policy across most of the state,” added Mike Senatore, vice president of conservation law for Defenders of Wildlife. “It’s extremely disheartening to watch the Obama administration unravel one of our country’s great Endangered Species Act success stories by turning over the conservation of wolves to states such as Wyoming and Idaho that treat these animals like unwanted vermin.”

At the Natural Resources Defense Council, Syliva Fallon said the USFWS decision "allows Wyoming to manage wolves at the razor’s edge of an already low number of wolves. It fails to adequately regulate the kill-on-sight practices that drove wolves to endangerment in the first place. And it stands as yet another lost opportunity on the part of Fish and Wildlife Service to provide the leadership necessary to secure a legally and scientifically defensible delisting plan for wolves.”

USFWS officials have said the grey wolf recovery program launched in the mid-1990s with the initial release of 14 wolves into Yellowstone has been highly successful. They say the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population stands at 1,774 adult wolves and more than 109 breeding pairs, and that the recovery goal population has been exceeded for 10 consecutive years.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials estimated the state's wolf population at 328 animals at the end of 2011, "including 48 packs and 27 breeding pairs. This included 224 wolves, 36 packs, and 19 breeding pairs outside Yellowstone National Park."