Wolf Ruling 

Awaiting a decision in wolf management suit

In a rare moment of unity, pro- and anti-wolf factions, as well as wildlife management officials, are anxiously awaiting a single ruling by a federal judge in Montana.

The judge in question is handing down a judgment on a request by 12 conservation groups to reverse the decision to remove wolves in the Rocky Mountains from the Endangered Species List, returning them to federal control.

The groups have asked for an immediate injunction to halt state management of the species, claiming plans in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming do not offer enough protections and could put the survival of wolves in danger.

The case went before the court last week, and U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy heard oral arguments before taking the matter under consideration. He told the parties he would rule soon, but it could be a week or more before a decision is made public.

In the meantime, all sides are left wondering what could happen with an already controversial species.

"I wish I had a crystal ball," said Suzanne Stone, wolf conservation specialist for the Northern Rockies region of Defenders of Wildlife, which is one of the groups that joined the suit seeking the injunction. Others include the Sierra Club, The Humane Society of the United States, the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Stone attended the oral arguments last week in Missoula, Mont., and said the judge seemed particularly interested in Wyoming's management plan—by and large the most controversial of all three state plans.

In Montana, wolves have strong protections in and around Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, but can be shot on sight in the majority of the state.

Idaho's own plan has earned the rancor of many conservation groups. The state recently announced final rules for a planned fall wolf hunting season (BW, News Shorts, "Wolf Season," May 28, 2008).

Under the plan, the limited hunt would be spread across 12 zones and the number of permits issued in each area would depend on the number of wolves there and the amount of conflict with livestock.

Officials with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game set the total wolf mortality rate for 2008 at 428 wolves, which includes those that die from natural causes, as well as those killed in conflicts with livestock or by hunters.

Fish and Game managers estimate that if that mortality rate is met, the state's wolf population would be reduced to roughly 550 wolves from the current 732.

The mortality rate is higher than conservation groups anticipated, and Stone calls the decision by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission "very disappointing."

"They were bullied and intimidated into making a very extreme decision," she said, blaming the most vocal of the anti-wolf protestors for the final number.

"It's another demonstration of why Idaho is not prepared to manage wolves," Stone said.

But Cal Groen, Fish and Game director, wrote a long opinion article in the Idaho Mountain Express last week, stating that hunting is a necessary tool in the management of many wildlife species, including wolves.

Judge Molloy is expected to have his say on that matter soon enough.

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