From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 105, Number 30 - July 24, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Endangered protection restored for wolves

by Jonathan Van Dyke

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy granted a motion for injunction to the plaintiffs that reinstates Endangered Species Act protections on the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves — repealing state management plans in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

“In my view, plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the majority of the claims relied upon in their request for a preliminary injunction,” Molloy said in his order. “In particular, (1) the Fish and Wildlife Service acted arbitrarily in delisting the wolf despite a lack of evidence of genetic exchange between subpopulations; and (2) it acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it approved Wyoming’s 2007 plan despite the State’s failure to commit to managing for 15 breeding pairs and the plan’s malleable trophy game area.”

Environmental group Earthjustice led some 12 other parties as the plaintiffs against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in order to halt the federal government’s plan to hand over wolf management to the three states. The injunction is not final, but is a measure to halt further activity until the full case goes to trial. “We’re disappointed, obviously, in the decision,” said Eric Keszler, spokesman for the Wyoming Game and Fish. “In our opinion, Wyoming’s [wolf management] plan is adequate in maintaining the wolves.”

With the ruling, Keszler said it was important for residents to change their behavior immediately.

“Especially for people [in what was formerly the predator area], you’re no longer allowed to take a wolf anywhere in the state, this reverses [the policy] to where it was,” Keszler added.

While the injunction may only be temporary, the 12 environmental groups viewed it as a strong statement.

“We’re obviously happy with the judge’s decision, but we recognize it’s only one step to the final decision of the legality of the delisting process,” said Franz Camenzind, director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. “I think the ruling was very well thought out, and suggested to me that the judge understood the issues involved.” Population connectivity was a large reason the injunction was ordered, but both sides are still disagreeing on the science. Connectivity calls for crossbreeding between the three states’ wolves so that inbreeding does not occur.

“The whole genetics thing kind of stunned me,” said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for FWS. “There’s nothing that ever said connectivity had to be totally natural.” Bangs argued that wolves from Montana had been brought into Yellowstone National Park as early as 1996. He also said the administrative record does not state that connectivity must come from natural movements.

“How it got twisted around to only natural is contrary to the administrative record,” Bangs said.

He also noted that if inbreeding or a lack of connectivity was taking place, the management plans would have allowed for a manual movement of the animals between the three states.

Bangs did admit that he wasn’t surprised that Wyoming’s management plan came under fire.

“Clearly it’s always been perceptionally a problem,” Bangs added. “The Wyoming plan was good enough, but it wasn’t something you’d go out and stake your life on.” Bangs went on to say that the judge “clearly hammered on Wyoming.” The state’s predator zone allowed for the free take of any wolves by anyone in its predator zone.

Because of its close proximity, the Jackson Hole Alliance had always been troubled by the predator zone just to its south. “Connectivity is crucial,” Camenzind said. “Having 90 percent [of Wyoming] in the predator zone, and giving every indication that there’d be considerably fewer wolves in Wyoming, this gave reason for the judge to be very concerned about the connectivity issue.”

Camenzind argued that between 2,000 and 3,000 wolves would need to be recovered in order for the populations to be interconnected. He noted the importance of putting the wolf back on the Endangered Species Act — which halts predator zone deaths and a proposed hunting season in the trophy game area — for regaining those numbers, and that it might be necessary to designate some “safe travel zones” for wolves to come back and forth between the three states.

Interestingly, the Game and Fish still may have a large hand in wolf management, even with top authority transferred back to the FWS.

“I expect [the Game and Fish and the [FWS] to make a cooperative agreement, just like Montana and Idaho, and the [Game and Fish] will be in charge,” Bangs said. “We’re hoping to get that going pretty quickly.” However, the Game and Fish is seeking to only gain some management powers over the former trophy game area. Wildlife Services will help in the predator area.

“We’re talking internally about what might be the best role for the Game and Fish as far as wolf management [after the injunction],” Keszler said.

Livestock producers who are facing depredation by wolves may call Wildlife Services at 307-261-5336 if in the former predator zone, or Game and Fish at 307-367-4353 if in the former trophy game. Those with questions can also call wolf specialist Mike Jimenez at 307-330-5631.

“On the day-to-day stuff, you really won’t notice a difference,” Bangs added.

The Sublette County Predator Board had requested an increase in its normal funding — used mostly against coyotes and ravens — because much of the county was in the former predator zone.

“The predator board will no longer have to expend any county taxpayer money to control wolves,” board treasurer Cat Urbigkit said.

Early in the year the predator board was involved with four wolf kills, at a cost upwards of $2,000.

The FWS is currently mulling over whether to appeal the injunction, which could delay the trial several months, or move forward with the final trial.

“This ruling is pretty clear and makes some pretty strong statements, and I believe an appeal would be running head first into some pretty strong decision comments in this document,” Camenzind said. “I would have to think that the defendant might be better off going straight to hearing the merits of the case than delaying it with an appeal, that’s my opinion.”

So now officials wait for the next potential step in a long fight.

“We want wolves to be delisted, that’s where we should be,” Bangs said.


"I am not surprised, given the judge's previous comments. I am disappointed, but I'm confident that the Attorney General will continue to litigate on the state's behalf."

Dave Freudenthal, governor of Wyoming

“We are very pleased with Judge Molloy’s ruling. This is one step in a long process towards improving wolf management. The ruling puts an immediate stop to the wolf killing that has taken place in the Northern Rockies since delisting. The states lack responsible, science-based management plans that ensure the wolf’s recovery into the future and the judge’s ruling reflects this.”

Melanie Stein, Sierra Club representative

“Today’s ruling by an activist judge was not based on sound science but rather pressure from environmental groups making exaggerating claims. After years of struggle and debate, we are right back where we started – with Washington, not Wyoming, in control over wolf management. That is unacceptable to me and to the people of Wyoming.”

John Barrasso, Wyoming United States Senator

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