HUNTING -- A federal appeals court today rejected a lawsuit from conservation groups that want to block wolf hunts that have killed more than 500 of the predators across the Northern Rockies in recent months, according to a just-filed Associated Press report
The ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Congress had the right to intervene when it stripped protections from wolves last spring.
Lawmakers stepped in after court rulings kept wolves on the endangered list for years after they reached recovery goals.
Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued to restore protections, said an appeal was under consideration but no decision had been made.
Read on for more details from the Associated Press.
“We’re very disappointed and very saddened,” Robinson said. “Hundreds of wolves have been hunted and trapped and snared, and they are essential to their ecosystem.” He called the congressional budget bill rider that lifted protections “an undemocratic way to promulgate a flawed policy.”
The number of wolves in the region grew slightly last year. There are at least 1,774 in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and portions of eastern Oregon and Washington.
Wolf hunting is allowed in Montana and Idaho and could resume in Wyoming this fall. Idaho also allows trapping.
Prior lawsuits resulted first in the animals’ reintroduction to the region and then later kept them on the endangered list for a decade after the species had reached the government’s original recovery goal of 300 wolves in three states.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is monitoring the hunts, but agency officials said they have no plans to intervene because wolves have recovered in the region and the states have promised to manage them responsibly.
Even without hunting, wolves are shot regularly in the region in response to livestock attacks.
Federal officials have pledged to step in to restore endangered species protections if wolf numbers drop to less than 100 animals in either Montana or Idaho.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation issued a press release applauding the court's decision. RMEF and other hunting groups had attorneys supporting Congress's move, part of a larger budget package that was eventually signed by President Obama.
“This is a huge win for real wildlife management in the U.S.,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “We’re thrilled with the favorable ruling because it upholds the law as well as science and common sense. This decision helps clear the way for continued work by true conservationists to balance wolf populations with other wildlife and human needs.”
Nevertheless, the case still could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A blogger The Wildlife News had this reaction to the case.
The ruling is available as a 12-page PDF on the Ninth Circuit's published opinion page under Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. Salazar.