Years of litigation over the delisting of most recovered gray wolves in the Northern Rock Mountains has ended.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in March affirmed the constitutionality of Congress’ removal of wolves in Montana, Idaho and portions of Oregon, Utah and Washington State from the federal Endangered Species List. The 90-day deadline to appeal that decision passed quietly this week with no action from plaintiff animal rights and anti-hunting groups.
“A lawsuit that began in 2011 in Judge Donald Molloy’s courtroom in Missoula, Mont., following the Congressional delisting, is finally over—and conservation has prevailed,” said David Allen, president and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), one of many conservation and pro-hunting organizations that advocated for the delisting. “No appeals paperwork had been filed by end of the day on June 12, so the Ninth Circuit’s decision is absolutely final.”
NRA, Safari Club International, RMEF and other pro-hunting groups intervened in the case to support the Congressional delisting action and advocate for science-based wolf management.
The fact that no appeal was filed means that the case will not advance to the U.S. Supreme Court, and management authority of wolves will remain with the states.
Wolf Hunt Updates
Preparations for the 2012-2013 wolf seasons are already underway in Montana and Idaho.
Montana has proposed changes to its wolf hunt with the intent of reducing the statewide population to a minimum of 425 wolves. Montana officials fell 25 percent short of their 220-wolf quota last season, with hunters taking 166 wolves.
The proposed changes include eliminating the statewide harvest quota, lengthening the season, and allowing wolf trapping for the first time. The general season would run from Sept. 1 to Feb. 28, 2013, with trapping allowed from Dec. 15 to the end of the general wolf season. The state is currently accepting public comments on the proposed changes until June 25.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) personnel counted 653 wolves at the end of 2011, a 15 percent increase over 2010. The minimum wolf count is the number of wolves actually counted by FWP wolf specialists and is likely 10 to 30 percent less than the actual wolf population, FWP said.
Idaho has also tweaked its wolf regulations for the upcoming season. Hunters can now purchase up to five wolf tags per calendar year (as can trappers), the season has been extended to run from Aug. 30 to March 31 in most of the state, and more zones will be open to trapping. Wolf trapping is set to begin Nov. 15.
Hunters killed 252 wolves in Idaho during the 2011-2012 season and trappers took 123 wolves, for a total harvest of 375 wolves. Quotas were eliminated in much of the state last year in order to increase the harvest.
Idaho Fish and Game estimated there were 746 wolves in the state at the end of 2011, down 4 percent from 2010’s year-end estimate of 777 wolves.
Wildlife managers in both states have said additional wolves need to be harvested in order to mitigate deer and elk declines due to wolf predation.
Holding wolf seasons has also helped both states generate revenue that will be used to benefit all wildlife. Approximately 43,300 wolf tags were sold in Idaho and 18,689 in Montana last season, netting both states nearly $1 million combined in additional revenue for conservation efforts.
Wyoming Still in the Crosshairs
While litigation over wolves in Montana and Idaho has ended, it could be just beginning in Wyoming.
Wyoming reached a deal with federal officials last summer on a management plan that would also delist wolves in that state, and final delisting is expected by early fall. Wyoming was left out of the 2011 Congressional delisting due to a management plan that failed to meet U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approval.
In April, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission set rules for a wolf season once management is turned over to the state. Under Wyoming’s plan, the state would allow trophy hunting for wolves in a flexible zone around Yellowstone National Park, beginning in October, with a quota of 52 wolves. Wolves in the rest of the state would be classified as predators that could be shot year-round.
Congress has not yet addressed wolves in Wyoming, meaning delisting in that state, once official, will be open to legal challenges from animal rights groups. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has indicated he is hopeful Congress will exempt Wyoming’s delisting from legal challenges, as it did with wolves in the remainder of the Northern Rockies in 2011.
According to the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Program 2011 Interagency Annual Report, at the end of 2011, there were an estimated 1,774 wolves in 287 packs in the Northern Rocky Mountains.
For more information:
Federal Budget Bill Paves Way for Wolf Delisting
Judge Upholds Northern Rockies Wolf Delisting
Great Lakes Wolves Next Up for Delisting