Sep 29

Court gives wolf control back to feds

Court gives wolf control back to feds

John Myers, Duluth News Tribune

Management of timber wolves in the Great Lakes region has been handed back to the federal government under a federal court decision released today in Washington.

The ruling means that killing a wolf for nearly any reason in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin immediately becomes illegal under federal law once again. The states had set up exceptions allowing some wolf killing by landowners, farmers and others.

Environmental and animal rights groups that had opposed taking wolves off the endangered species list claimed victory on Monday.

The decision by Judge Paul Friedman ruled that the federal government’s effort to remove only Great Lakes region wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act, as a distinct population segment, was not supported by biology or law.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service moved in 2006 to remove wolves from the endangered species list and give control to state Departments of Natural Resources in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The agency concluded that wolves had recovered from near-extinction in the 1960s and 1970s and had met the goals to restore their population in the region.

For the past two years, wolves have been under state management in those states. In addition to government trapping, all three states had allowed slightly more liberal wolf killing by livestock farmers, pet owners and landowners. Wisconsin officials also were mulling a wolf hunt at some point, while Minnesota had put that issue off until at least 2011.

But all those state plans now are on hold.

Filing suit against the de-listing effort were the Humane Society of the United States, Help Our Wolves Live, Born Free USA and Friends of Animals and Their Environment, who said wolves should be handled as a contiguous population. They argued that, because wolves still haven’t been restored to most of their historic range, the animal should keep its federal protection.

The groups oppose efforts by some states to move toward hunting and trapping seasons.

“Even across the three Great Lakes states, wolves aren’t recovered in all areas. And then there are all the other states that had wolf populations but no longer do,’’ Brian O’Neill, lead attorney for the Twin Cities-based Faegre & Benson law firm that handled the case for the groups, told the News Tribune. “If you ask me, 4,000 wolves are not that many across such a large area. … And we see all three states with (wolf management plans) that could essentially cut the number of wolves in half. That’s not an acceptable situation.’’

Minnesota has about 3,000 wolves while Wisconsin and Michigan each have about 500 or more. But Minnesota’s wolf population has stopped growing and has even shrunk in recent years, a state survey found last winter, and has not grown in geographic area over the past decade as some wolf experts had predicted.

In July, a federal judge in Montana overturned a similar decision stripping wolves of all federal protection in the Rocky Mountain region, thus preventing Idaho, Montana and Wyoming from implementing wolf hunts as well.

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Sep 29

Conservation Groups Win Lawsuit to Protect Gray Wolf in Great Lakes

Conservation Groups Win Lawsuit to Protect Gray Wolf in Great Lakes;

Court Orders Bush Administration to Retain Protections for

Wolves Under Endangered Species Act

WASHINGTON— Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today ordered the Bush administration to retain protection for gray wolves in the Great Lakes area under the Endangered Species Act.

“This is a tremendous victory for gray wolves, which have been hunted and persecuted to the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states and have only started to recover across their historic range,” said Amy Atwood, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The victory is also another win against the efforts of the Bush administration to drastically limit the protections of the Endangered Species Act.”

The Court’s order and accompanying opinion were issued in response to a lawsuit brought by conservationists challenging the Bush administration’s effort to unlawfully apply the Endangered Species Act to the status of gray wolves. The Center filed a brief in the case that concerned a 2007 rule by the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove gray wolves in the Great Lakes region from the threatened species list. The ruling comes a few months after Judge Donald Molloy of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana halted the Bush administration’s attempt to remove gray wolves in the northern Rockies from the endangered species list in response to a separate lawsuit in which the Center is a plaintiff.

Although the gray wolf once ranged throughout much of the lower 48 states and is entitled under the Endangered Species Act to recover throughout its historic range, in the Great Lakes and northern Rockies regions — where gray wolves have recovered to some degree — the Fish and Wildlife Service created and delisted a “distinct population segment” of gray wolves in each of those regions. The agency attempted to draw a circle around wolves in the Great Lakes and northern Rockies and remove their protection. In so doing, Fish and Wildlife attempted to abandon protection and recovery for wolves throughout the majority of their range in the lower 48 United States.

“The Bush administration’s repeated attempts to push the limits of the Endangered Species Act have been decidedly rejected by the Courts,” Atwood said. “This is a great day for all endangered species.”

The case, Humane Society of the U.S., et al. v. Kempthorne, et al., Civ. No. 07-00677 (D.D.C.), is before Judge Paul L. Friedman of the D.C. District Court. Other plaintiffs include the Animal Protection Institute, Help Our Wolves Live, and Friends of Animals and Their Environment.

Background

Gray wolves are the largest wild members of the Canidae, or dog family, with adults ranging from 40 to 175 pounds, depending upon sex and subspecies. The wolves’ fur color is frequently a grizzled gray, but it can vary from pure white to coal black. Wolves are social, mobile animals and often travel 10 to 30 miles per day in packs of two to 12. Packs are primarily family groups consisting of a breeding pair, their pups from the current year, offspring from one or two previous years, and occasionally an unrelated wolf. Wolves primarily are predators of medium-sized and large mammals. Wild prey species in North America include white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, elk, caribou, bison, musk ox, bighorn sheep and Dall sheep, and mountain goat. When necessary, wolves also eat smaller prey like snowshoe hare, beaver, and muskrat, and, at times, small mammals, birds, and large invertebrates. Wolves are habitat generalists, and when they are not being persecuted by humans, they can live anywhere that contains a sufficient population of large ungulates.

Wolves once roamed throughout North America and the United States and Alaska to southern Mexico (with limited geographic exceptions). Wolves coexisted with American Indian nations, but European settlers persecuted wolves on a widespread basis with poisons, trapping, and shooting that was sanctioned and carried out by federal, state, and local governments through official public policies.

Since 1978, due to the substantive protections of the Endangered Species Act, gray wolf numbers have increased in two small fractions of the species’ former range in the Northern Rockies and the Great Lakes. Between 1979 and 1998, the occupied wolf range in Minnesota doubled in size, and wolves dispersed from Minnesota into northern Wisconsin and into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There are now wolves in all three states, but the vast majority of the Great Lakes wolf population is still limited to northern Minnesota. The gray wolf remains extirpated across about 95 percent of its historic range.

The Bush administration’s last attempt to remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves was rejected by two federal courts.

The Bush administration has listed fewer species under the Endangered Species Act than any other administration since the law was enacted in 1973; to date, it has only listed 58 species, compared to 522 under Clinton and 231 under George H.W. Bush. George W. Bush’s administration has not listed a single species in nearly 18 months. In August 2007, the Center marked this record of inaction by presenting Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne the Rubber Dodo Award. The Center gives the award annually to a deserving person in public or private service who has done the most to drive endangered species extinct.

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Sep 29

Great Lakes Wolves Still Endangered, Court Rules

Great Lakes Wolves Still Endangered, Court Rules

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) A federal court has overturned the government’s decision to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list for the Great Lakes region.

The ruling Monday was in response to a lawsuit filed by several environmental groups, including The Humane Society of the United States.

The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., says the 2007 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was not supported by the federal Endangered Species Act.

The ruling affects wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The decision comes nearly a week after the agency asked a judge in Montana to place gray wolves in the Northern Rockies back on the endangered list after proposing to remove them earlier this year.

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Sep 29

WY: Rocky Barker: Feds, Wyoming weigh workable wolf options

Rocky Barker: Feds, Wyoming weigh workable wolf options

Rocky Barker

So what happens next with endangered wolves in the Northern Rockies?

If U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula, Mont., remands the case back to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as expected, the Bush administration has several options. Wyoming is also weighing its options, including suing the federal government for not delisting wolves.

The environmental groups who are the victors are waiting for the agency to make the next move and waiting for a new administration that might be supportive of their goals of placing a higher floor on the number of wolves that must be protected in the region.

Start with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Justice. The Bush administration first proposed delisting wolves in Idaho, Montana, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and northern Utah, leaving out Wyoming. Only when it could get Wyoming to say it wouldn’t allow hunters to kill so many wolves and it would expand the recovery area did the administration include that recalcitrant state in delisting.

To go back to that route, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s biologists will have to show that there is genetic mixing between the wolves in Idaho and Montana and the wolves in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and Wyoming. A new study is expected out soon that insiders say will show there already has been mixing.

Molloy suggested that Idaho and Montana’s wolf management plans are as good as the current federal plan for protecting wolves. But environmentalists are certain to sue based on an attempt to delist along state lines and because they want assurances more than 450 wolves will survive in the region.

The Bush administration also could delay the decision until after the election and allow a new administration to deal with the issue. That can only mean environmentalists having more say, not less than they have had in the Bush administration.

What about Wyoming?

Wyoming Attorney General Bruce Salzburg recently wrote to state lawmakers saying the state’s options include filing a lawsuit, leaving management to the federal government or writing a new wolf management plan.

Jackson, Wyo., Republican state Rep. Keith Gingery has proposed amending the state’s wolf plan to make it more like Idaho’s and Montana’s. But the reaction from livestock and hunting groups to his proposal doesn’t give it much promise.

“I disagree that legal action is futile, and I don’t think the right course of action is to let extremist groups and activist judges decide state policy,” Bryce Reese, executive vice president of the Wyoming Woolgrowers Association told the Jackson Hole News and Guide.

So is there a deal out there that Idaho and Montana and the federal government can cut with the environmentalists who filed the lawsuit?

Most of the environmental groups involved say they can accept wolf hunting if a minimum number of wolves are protected. But that number would be high.

“It is my hope that the Fish and Wildlife Service shows a wolf population that is truly genetically healthy,” said Jenny Harbine, an attorney with Earthjustice, the environmental law group representing environmentalists. “It can do that by documenting it in the Yellowstone ecosystem, but they also have to ensure the states manage wolf numbers to maintain a level of genetic exchange throughout the region.”

Environmentalists are talking about 2,500 to 3,000. But if the new study shows that wolves can effectively mix genetically in the region without human intervention at a lower number, say, the current 1,500-2000 population, there might be room for settlement.

I’m doubtful that hunters and ranchers in the two states would find that acceptable. You only have to read the comments to my blog on wolves to see that some hunters are already threatening to kill wolves illegally in an effort to keep elk populations high.

Ultimately, what the Fish and Wildlife Service has to do is to write a plan that can stand up to legal challenge. That isn’t going to happen by the end of this year, so no matter what, the next administration is going to have to deal with wolves in the Northern Rockies.

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Sep 29

MT: Agents kills 2 wolves southwest of Philipsburg

Agents kills 2 wolves southwest of Philipsburg

PHILIPSBURG, Mont. (AP) – Federal agents killed two wolves southwest of Philipsburg.

USDA Wildlife Services says the animals were killed after confirmation that wolf depredation injured a calf on private land in the Philipsburg area. The calf was euthanized.

A second injured calf was found after officials killed the wolves. That calf also was euthanized. Wildlife Services says the animal had been attacked by wolves, possibly prior to injury of the other calf.

The wolves were killed on Sept. 22. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks authorized the deaths and announced them on Monday.

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Sep 28

WY: Delisting endangers wolves

Delisting endangers wolves

In a case of predator turned prey, rampant hunting puts the northern Rockies’ gray wolf back on the endangered species list six months after it was removed.

By Julie Cart
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

DANIEL, WYO. — It’s hard for ranchers here to figure how it came to this — again.

After railing for more than a decade against the federal government for reintroducing gray wolves to the region, after finally winning the battle to get the animals taken off the endangered species list, what went so wrong that Washington stepped in last week to protect the wolves all over again?

It began near here in this high-altitude chaparral. No sooner were gray wolves delisted in March than sportsmen in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming began locking and loading. Wyoming officials declared 90% of the state a “free-fire zone.” Hunters from around the state flocked to rural Sublette County to bag a wolf.

Rancher Merrill Dana, 57, saw the results right away. Hunters aboard snowmobiles chased wolves across the early spring snow on his sprawling ranch. “The first morning it was opened up, they killed three up here,” he said. “Trespassers. We didn’t even know they were up here until we heard the snow machines.”

Dana said he has been offered as much as $2,500 for permission to hunt wolves on his land. He refused.

As with many ranchers here, there is no love lost between Dana and wolves. He was mad the interlopers hadn’t asked permission to hunt. “I wanted people I know to get them,” said Dana, who was among a hunting party that eventually killed a 110-pound male.

Through the early summer, an average of a wolf a day was being killed across the region. In all, at least 130 animals died since the delisting, or nearly 10% of the wolf population in the northern Rockies. Then, on July 21, a federal judge stopped the hunt. Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service capitulated and began the process to relist wolves.

“People overreacted,” said cattle rancher John Robinette of Dubois, Wyo. “I don’t think the policy was intended as: ‘Go out and see how many wolves you can kill.’ ”

Robinette has lost cattle, horses and dogs to wolves. Even when the wolf was listed, he had a rare federal permit to shoot any wolf he saw on his 25,000 acres. But he said he was convinced that giving everyone that right would lead to needless and reckless slaughter.

“People went out all over the state shooting and bragging about it and putting pictures in the paper,” Robinette said. “This is what I dreaded this spring: that someone would go out and get a bunch of pups out of a den and get their picture in the paper. It was going to draw unwanted attention.”

Among cattlemen, distaste for wolves is as broad and wide as the sagebrush plain that stretches in all directions from Dana’s ranch. Once hunted nearly to extinction, the West’s most-reviled predator roams freely here, coming down to these khaki-colored valleys from nearby national forests in search of elk and the occasional cow or calf.

Dana’s thoughts about wolves are complicated. He enjoys wildlife and readily acknowledges that the clever and strong wolf is especially fascinating. But after the controversial program to reintroduce the wolf in the 1990s, the animal has come to symbolize unwelcome federal meddling in rural Western lives and land.

For the time being, at least, wolves in the northern Rockies are back on the endangered species list while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reconsiders the issue. Federal officials are monitoring the wolf management programs in Montana and Idaho, which canceled its wolf hunt planned for this month. In Wyoming, federal wildlife officials took over wolf management while a committee of the Wyoming Legislature crafts a new policy.

It was a stunning reversal in what wildlife biologists had hailed as a success story. The species had flourished, its population growing by about 20% a year since wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1995. This was proof the Endangered Species Act worked, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said when it delisted the wolf in March.

In July, federal District Judge Donald Molloy issued an injunction against the state wolf plans, after a challenge by environmental groups. He questioned whether indiscriminate killing would reduce wolf numbers back to crisis levels. He also said the hunt could isolate packs of wolves, reducing the species’ gene pool.

Some wildlife biologists say the damage is already done. Nearly all of the known wolves in Wyoming’s free-fire area were killed in little more than a month. Recent estimates show that the wolf population in the three states began to decline for the first time in more than a decade even before the hunt.

“The decision [to relist them] has brought the wolves a massive reprieve, a lifeline,” said Louisa Wilcox, who tracks the issue for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Livingston, Mont.

Some of the wolves shot since March were known to have killed livestock and were taken by authorized hunters. But half of the wolves killed without permits were shot in Sublette County.

“The wolves in the predator area were taken out; those wolves are gone,” said Mike Jimenez, who leads the Wyoming wolf recovery project for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “That’s no surprise. They are vulnerable to hunting.”

Suzanne Stone, who manages a wolf program in Idaho for Defenders of Wildlife, said that Wyoming’s hunt couldn’t have come at a worse time for wolves. “Late spring, they can’t travel that well,” she said. “They stay close to their den sites, and they are not going to leave the pups or the alpha female. It’s an easy time of year to kill wolves.”

Dana thinks he knows the details of the last wolf kill, on May 2. He believes the hunter was a young man who tracked a female for 70 miles on a snowmobile in and out of dense stands of trees.

“She was a loner who was plumb lost,” Dana said of the wolf. “All her mates were gone [killed]. The kid was going through sagebrush and fences and trees. He tore up an $8,000 snow machine.”

In the last seven years, Dana has lost 11 calves and cows and two dogs to wolf predation. His neighbor, Kevin Campbell, 54, says he has never lost livestock to wolves. Their experiences reflect regional and national statistics.

Across the county in 2006, coyotes, dogs, mountain lions and even vultures killed more cattle than did wolves.

Last year in Montana, coyotes were blamed for 51% of cattle losses due to predators, while dogs were accountable for 11%, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, part of the federal Department of Agriculture.

Yet the perception persists that wolves are dramatically reducing livestock inventories and big game. Elk and deer populations are stable in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, state wildlife officials say.

“When you say ‘wolf,’ it drives a lot of hard feelings,” said Robinette.

To Campbell, a rancher in Bondurant, Wyo., who was helping Dana sort and load cattle for sale last week, wolves and livestock are not compatible. “I try to have an open mind,” he said, shifting in his saddle. “But I think they should go back to the policy we just had, to be able to shoot them.”

In rural areas of the upper Rockies, it’s not uncommon to come across bumper stickers proclaiming “The Only Good Wolf Is a Dead Wolf.”

Although sentiments are somewhat less volatile in the cities, a store in upscale Jackson this week had two stuffed wolves for sale for about $4,500 each. One tag read “recent taxidermy.”

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Sep 27

CO: Wolf reintroduction proposed for Colo.

Wolf reintroduction proposed for Colo.

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) – An environmental group wants to see wolves back in Colorado.

WildEarth Guardians of Sante Fe, New Mexico, has filed papers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calling for wolf reintroduction in four Colorado areas. Wolves have already been reintroduced to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

WildEarth Guardians says Colorado should come next. The group argues that wolves would help thin overpopulated elk herds.

The group’s proposal identifies four Colorado areas for wolf reintroduction – the Flat Tops north of Glenwood Springs, the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison national forests near Pitkin County’s western border, the San Juan Mountains and Wemenuche Wilderness in southwestern Colorado, and southern Colorado’s Vermeso Park Ranch and Carson National Forest.

A Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman says the agency stands by its existing wolf recovery plan, which does not include introduction in Colorado.

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Sep 25

WY: Wyoming Leaders To Seek Wolf Solutions

Wyoming Leaders To Seek Wolf Solutions

From The K-B-L-G News Center…

WYOMING LEGISLATIVE LEADERS PLAN TO MEET WITHIN THE NEXT THREE WEEKS TO DEVELOP A RESPONSE TO THE U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE’S DECISION TO REIMPOSE FEDERAL PROTECTION FOR GRAY WOLVES IN THE NORTHERN ROCKIES.

OPTIONS INCLUDE SUING THE FEDS, ALLOWING THE FEDS TO MANAGE WOLVES IN WYOMING, OR COMING UP WITH A NEW STATE WOLF MANAGEMENT PLAN.

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Sep 25

MT: Wolves kill 2 cows west of Kalispell

Wolves kill 2 cows west of Kalispell

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) – Federal wildlife officials have confirmed that two cows west of Kalispell were killed by wolves.

Ed Jonas is the owner of the Blacktail Mountain Ranch near Rollins. He says he was grazing the heifers on another ranch southwest of Kila and learned of the killings Tuesday.

Kent Laudon is a biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. He says a federal trapper has confirmed the cows were killed by wolves.

Laudon says the Hog Heaven Pack was in the area at the time of the attacks, and efforts are under way to remove two wolves from the pack.

Information from: Daily Inter Lake, http://www.dailyinterlake.com

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Sep 24

MT: Agency to Reconsider Taking Gray Wolves Off Endangered Species List

Agency to Reconsider Taking Gray Wolves Off Endangered Species List

By JIM ROBBINS

HELENA, Mont. — The federal agency that removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list in March has changed its mind and is asking a federal judge to vacate the decision.

The request, by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, follows a temporary order by Judge Donald Molloy of Federal District Court in Missoula, Mont., against the service’s decision in March to remove the wolf from the list. The agency said then that the wolf population in the Northern Rockies had fully recovered.

The order stopped a plan to allow hunting of the wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming until a lawsuit by environmentalists challenging the wolves’ removal from the endangered species list could be heard.

On Monday the Fish and Wildlife Service asked Judge Molloy to vacate the delisting and allow officials to reconsider their finding and further study the issue.

“We are going to take a look at everything again and address the concerns expressed to us by the judge and everyone else,” said Sharon Rose of the service’s Mountain Prairie Office.

Environmentalists were pleased by the agency’s action. “We’re delighted by the request to redo the plan,” said Louisa Wilcox, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It clearly reflects the fact that there were problems with the plan.”

The environmentalists’ lawsuit, filed in July, said among other things that a plan to control the wolf population relied too heavily on killing the animals, rather than on nonlethal means of control. They also said the wolves’ genetics, which dictate their long-term survivability, were not well understood.

The reconsideration of the listing was not related to a recently announced decline in the wolf population in the Rockies. Wildlife officials counted 1,455 animals this summer, down from 1,545 a year ago. It was the first drop in more than 10 years and officials said they were not sure why.

The first wolf hunting season, scheduled for this fall, was delayed after Judge Molloy’s order. If the judge grants the Fish and Wildlife Service’s request, it will be further delayed until the re-evaluation is complete.

But state and federal agents in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming will still be allowed to kill problem wolves that threaten livestock. Since wolves returned to the West in the 1990s federal agents have killed more than 1,000 wolves, and last year 186 problem wolves were killed in the three states.

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