WOLVES

Mont., Idaho populations lose ESA protection effective today

A version of this story appeared in E&ENews PM.

Gray wolves will be removed from the federal Endangered Species List as soon as today in Montana and Idaho, the Department of Interior announced yesterday.

Calling the species a "success story," Interior officials said gray wolves in the two northern Rockies states have joined the ranks of the peregrine falcon, the bald eagle and other animals whose recovery has been achieved under the Endangered Species Act.

"To be sure, not everyone will be satisfied with today's announcements," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a conference call yesterday. "Wolves have long been a highly charged issue. But let us not lose sight of the fact that these delistings are possible because the species have recovered in these areas."

The final rule, published in today's Federal Register, also delists wolf populations in portions of Oregon, Washington and Utah, but it does not remove protections for wolves in Wyoming, where regulators continue to have concerns about that state's proposed wolf management plan.

The Fish and Wildlife Service delisted wolves in Montana and Idaho in 2009, but that decision was nullified by a federal judge, who ruled last year that FWS could not remove protection for wolves in the two northern Rockies states while retaining protections in Wyoming (Greenwire, Aug. 6, 2010).

Another settlement attempt by the Interior Department and stakeholder groups, including 10 environmental organizations, to remove wolves in Montana and Idaho from federal protection was again rejected by the same judge last month (Land Letter, April 14).

At the urging of several Western lawmakers, Congress last month passed a rider in its fiscal 2011 appropriations bill ordering that the 2009 delisting decision be reinstated.

"After years of lawsuits, the delisting got stuck in unacceptable gridlock, acrimony and dispute," Salazar said. "It was consuming services that could have been spent recovering other species that need the service's attention. Last month, Congress stepped in."

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Conservation groups criticized the rider, saying it could open the door to more endangered species removals (E&E Daily, April 12).

Bill Snape, senior counsel of the Center for Biological Diversity, called yesterday's announcement a "tragedy."

"It was an action that didn't need to be," he said. "Both Congress and the Department of Interior have fallen down on this issue, and we are looking at our continued legal options to ensure that wolves are adequately protected."

Wolves in Montana and Idaho will now be managed under state management plans, including provisions that allow for controlled hunting of the predators. FWS will gather population data for the next five years under a post-delisting monitoring plan, said Rowan Gould, the service's acting director.

Wolves will remain under federal protection in Wyoming, where Gould said the service is working closely with state officials to develop a management plan that will allow for delisting.

Great Lakes action

Separately, Fish and Wildlife also formally proposed to delist gray wolf populations in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"Wolves are biologically recovered in this area and no longer require the protection of the ESA," Gould said.

There are 2,922 wolves in Minnesota, and their "continued survival is assured," he said. Wolves in Michigan and Wisconsin number 557 and 690, respectively. Each state has developed a wolf management plan signed by the directors of their state resource departments.

The proposed delisting rule is now open for public comment. This is the fourth attempt by Fish and Wildlife to delist western Great Lakes wolves. Environmental groups have blocked previous tries (Land Letter, April 21).

FWS is also reviewing the status of other wolf populations, the service said. The agency is proposing to revise the historic range of the gray wolf by removing all or parts of 29 Eastern states, Gould said, because new information suggests wolves did not live there.

Click here to read the final rule.

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