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Dodging the Bullet
Wolf hunt blocked until Wyoming agrees to conservation
A member of the Agate Creek pack in Yellowstone National Park.| Photo by Mark Miller
There was no wolf-hunting season in the Northern Rockies this fall. For that you can thank—or blame—federal judge Donald Molloy, who on August 5 reinstated full Endangered Species Act protection for the wolf in Montana and Idaho, reversing a Bush-era decision to remove it from the endangered list. For the foreseeable future, wolf management is now the province of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, not the states.
And for that you can thank Wyoming. When the wolf was delisted, the Northern Rocky states were each supposed to come up with a wolf-management plan. Idaho's and Montana's were put together by their respective fish and game departments. These incorporated substantial protective measures, plus limited wolf hunts. Last year, 256 animals were killed in these hunts, with another 270 killed by government predator-control officers.
Wyoming, however, wasn't willing to leave wolf policy to the biologists. Backed by Governor Dave Freudenthal (D), the state legislature took wolf management into its own hands, passing a law that basically allowed any wolf outside a national park to be shot on sight. U.S. Fish and Wildlife deemed the plan so unacceptable that it maintained full federal protection for wolves in Wyoming, while letting Idaho and Montana go their own ways.
Not so fast, said Judge Molloy. "The Endangered Species Act does not allow the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list only part of a 'species' as endangered," he ruled.
The result is political turmoil. Montana congressman Denny Rehberg (R) is threatening legislation that would exempt the wolf from endangered-species protection entirely. Senator Max Baucus (D) says he will introduce a bill to put wolf management in Montana solely under state control. Various parties are promising an appeal of Molloy's decision, although it was so narrowly crafted it's unclear what the basis for an appeal might be.
Wyoming might resolve the issue by coming up with an acceptable wolf-management plan, but first the Cowboy State legislature (termed "astonishingly dense" by Montana's Bozeman Daily Chronicle) would have to repeal its anti-wolf statute. And that, said Steve Thomas, the Sierra Club field organizing director in Sheridan, Wyoming, "is not likely to happen in my lifetime." —Paul Rauber