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article imageFederal Court hears arguments over Yellowstone and Wy wolves Special

By Stephen Pope     Dec 17, 2013 in Environment
Lawyers argued today in a Washington, D.C. federal court to prevent the approximately 650 remaining wolves living in Yellowstone National Park and Wyoming from being killed-off by ranchers and trophy hunters.
The lawsuit was filed earlier this year by Defenders of Wildlife, a Montana-based environmental watchdog group along with the Sierra Club and others, to force Ken Salazar, Interior Secretary and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to relist the approximately 650 wolves, which according to the lawsuit, were illegally removed from the Endangered Species Act in 2012.
The lawsuit alleges the FWS ignored numerous studies and reports from wildlife specialists that say the wolf population may be killed-off or be reduced to a dangerous level if they are not relisted as endangered species.
In 1995 the federal government reintroduced Gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains, including Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Up until 2008, the wolves were protected from being killed and hunted.
Based on intense lobbying from Montana ranchers, in 2008 the USFW removed all protections from wolves in that state. After a lawsuit filed by Defenders, a federal judge determined there were “substantial deficiencies afflicting FWS’s efforts to delist the region’s wolves — among them, a lack of genetic exchange,” and restored federal protections to the wolves, the lawsuit alleges.
The FWS attempted again in 2009 to remove federal protections from wolves in Montana and Idaho. A federal judge in Montana ruled that the FWS ignored significant scientific evidence that the wolf population would be in jeopardy of being killed off if they were removed from the ESA, and restored federal protection to the wolves.
In 2011 Congress passed legislation delisting all wolves, except those in Yellowstone National Park and Wyoming.
On September 10, 2012 the FWS permanently delisted all wolves except those in Yellowstone National Park. The delisting, according to the lawsuit relied on promises by Wyoming game officials that at least 100 wolves and 10 breeding pair will be maintained in the state.
According to a court document recently filed by Defenders, Wyoming officials have offered no reasonable assurances that the required number of wolves will actually be maintained.
Wyoming has authorized the killing of Yellowstone wolves for sport
Indeed, according to a court filing over 85 percent of Wyoming is considered a kill-on-sight “predator zone” where wolves can be killed for no reason. Another 15 percent of the state that borders the southern part of Yellowstone has been designated as a “Trophy Hunting Zone,” which allows hunters to kill wolves for sport.
A Wyoming Fish and Game official, who refused to give his name, told Digital Journal that most of the wolves killed in the trophy zone come from Yellowstone.
A lawyer for Defenders, Jason Rylander told Digital Journal in an exclusive interview today, “Wolves can be shot on sight in the predator zone.” He added, “Just this year there have been very important wolves killed in the predator zone, some of these wolves have been collared and tracked for years and were important for research.”
Wyoming has gone so far as to authorize the killing of wolves that have been lured onto private property by baiting the lawsuit says.
US Fish and Wildlife ignored their own studies in removing federal protection for wolves
Numerous scientists, including those solicited by the FWS, have criticized Wyoming’s wolf management plan, saying it threatens the existence of wolves in Wyoming and Yellowstone, the lawsuit alleges.
A wolf in Yellowstone s Lamar Valley.
A wolf in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley.
According to court papers, the FWS determined it is crucial for wolves in Yellowstone to breed with wolves in surrounding states, called “genetic exchange.” The FWS determined in a 1994 study that it was critical for successful wolf recovery that wolves from Yellowstone are allowed to travel and breed with other wolves in neighboring states.
“FWS has repeatedly reaffirmed that establishment of connectivity between wolf subpopulations, including ‘genetic exchange’ among the three Northern Rocky Mountain recovery areas and Canada, is essential to the long-term viability of the area’s wolf population,” the lawsuit alleges.
The FWS “is ignoring their findings that Yellowstone National Park Wolves be allowed to populate outside the park,” Rylander said.
He added, “There are no regulations in Wyoming to ensure that wolves will be maintained in the predator zones.”
In fact, the lawsuit alleges that according to Wyoming’s plan, no wolves will be allowed to breed or live in the predator zones.
Critical of the FWS accepting Wyoming’s inadequate guarantees to protect 100 wolves the lawsuit alleges, “FWS failed to ensure that wolves will not he “annihilated” in areas that border Yellowstone, as a result of the established trophy hunting zones.”
According to the Wyoming game official all of the trophy killing areas border Yellowstone, and most of the wolves killed are from the park.
USFWS Service may have provided deceptive information in public filings
The lawsuit alleges that the FWS wrote in a public filing that it is not concerned about Wyoming’s aggressive wolf management plan because Wyoming officials have promised it intends to “maintain an adequate buffer above minimum (wolf) population objectives.” However, according to the lawsuit these promises by Wyoming game officials appear nowhere in Wyoming laws or hunting regulations.
The FWS has also not considered that Wyoming laws continue to permit the killing of wolves that are considered “predators” even when “the state’s minimum wolf population objectives are approached or actually breached,” the lawsuit alleges.
This essentially means that ranchers and landowners could conceivably kill all of the wolves that live or travel through Wyoming, making the state’s promise to maintain a minimum of 100 wolves meaningless.
As of November 1, 2012 at least 40 wolves have been killed in Wyoming, 35 of those were killed in sport hunting zones just outside Yellowstone, the lawsuit alleges.
“The judge was very engaged today by asking probing questions,” said Reylander. While no decision is expected anytime soon Reylander said “we are optimistic that the judge has a full understanding of the issues and will rule in our favor.”
Thus far since 2008 state and federal officials have lost every significant court battle to strip protections from wolves.
More about Yellowstone wolves, Gray wolves, Endangered species act
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