From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 7, Number 49 - February 28, 2008
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Big Day For Gray Wolf
10(j) rule enacted, delisting rule published Wednesday
by Joy Ufford

Timing is everything, even for gray wolves.

With the potential looming just days off that the once over-hunted (and later reintroduced) Northern Rocky Mountains’ gray wolf will be removed from the Endangered Species List, momentum is picking up steam on all sides of the intricate issue.

The U.S. Fish andWildlife Service (FWS) final delisting rule for gray wolves in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana (and parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah) was published in the Federal Register Wednesday. It will take effect on March 28.

The decision was announced by FWS and applauded by Wyoming officials on Feb. 21, the day the delisting rule was announced. “The gray wolf population in the Northern Rockies has far exceeded its recovery goal and continues to expand in size and range,” announced Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett last Thursday, adding that there are more than 1,500 wolves and at least 100 breeding pairs in the Northern Rocky Mountains’ (NRM) population.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal and the Wyoming Game and Fish (G&F) issued a joint statement late last week welcoming the news. “This announcement is great news,” Gov. Freudenthal said last Thursday. “It signals that the state’s work has paid off and we’re ready to assume the full responsibilities of managing wolves.”

G&F Director Terry Cleveland, whose agency will manage the Wyoming trophy game population, said it is “well situated to take over management of these animals in a way that makes sense for Wyoming.

“That means ensuring a recovered population of wolves while at the same time working with people who live and work in wolf country to minimize conflicts between wolves and livestock and wolves and people, ” Cleveland said.

The next step is the dismissal by Gov. Freudenthal of the state’s appeal of the court decision backing FWS in its determination that the previous 2003 draft state wolf-management plan was “not adequate to assume that Wyoming’s portion of the NRM wolf population would be maintained above recovery levels,” says the final delisting rule.

In December, G&F Commission and FWS approved the new state management plan that divides Wyoming’s wolves into two areas: the trophy-game and predator areas. FWS Director H. Dale Hall approved the state plan conditionally in that it had to become fully effective under state law, which is expected in March.

“Wyoming has indicated that they will deem the claims in the pending litigation settled and will request that the (U.S.District) court dismiss the litigation upon publication of this final rule by Feb.28,2008.”

The delisting rule’s publication arrived just two days before 2007 Wyoming state law has mandated abandoning the process if delisting was not finalized. The state’s plan must be in effect according to Wyoming statutory requirements before the delisting rule becomes effective 30 days after its publication. Also on Feb. 27, the FWS newspecial 10(j) rule was enacted, 30 days after its own publication in the Federal Register. The rule was drawn up by FWS (as one of Wyoming’s requirements before accepting delisting) to provide broader lethal control, if needed and approved, of problem wolves attacking livestock and dogs. The rule only covers listed wolves in the three states; once delisted the 10(j) rule “goes away,” according to FWS Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator Ed Bangs.

See you in court

As with the previously published FWS new 10(j) rule, court actions will be filed upon the delisting rule’s Feb. 27 publication, under the Administrative Procedures Act, confirmed Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine.

Earthjustice is acting on behalf of conservation-group clients against the FWS delisting the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves. “We will submit our notice letter that sets forth the government’s violations of the (ESA) and follow with a lawsuit in federal court challenging those violations 60 days later,” Harbine said.

“The Endangered Species Act requires (FWS) to determine both that a species is biologically recovered and that adequate regulatory mechanisms are in place to protect a species once it is delisted. Wolf delisting fails on both counts. Gray wolves in the northern Rockies are on the cusp of biological recovery, but they aren’t out of the woods yet.

“Now,wolves are staring down the barrel at hostile state management schemes that would ensure the wolf population never achieves viable numbers and connectivity. The goal of our lawsuit is to reinstate essential federal protections for wolves that are still imperiled in our region.”

On Jan. 28, Earthjustice filed against the final 10(j) rule in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Montana, for declaratory and injunctive relief” in an effort to stop the rule, which offers the three Northern Rockies’ states greater leeway as intended by FWS to use lethal control and broader circumstances for killing wolves, from taking effect.

“This (10j) rule governs wolf management until delisting becomes effective on March 28, and will also govern in the event that delisting is enjoined,” Harbine explained this week. “In otherwords, this rule would allow Idaho, Wyoming and Montana to kill all but 600 wolves in the northern Rockies even if a federal court judge determines that delisting is unlawful. Our goal in challenging the new wolf management rule is to prevent the extensive wolf killing that the rule needlessly allows. If a federal court judge determines that delisting is unlawful, (FWS) should redouble its efforts to conserve wolves, not (promote) a contingency plan to allow their killing.”

Meanwhile, wolf delisting is proceeding on schedule as expected, according to Bangs and G&F Wildlife Division Chief Bill Rudd.

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