The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund on Thursday filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure wolves already living in Idaho are protected in plans to move Canadian wolves to the state.
“We don’t object to the transplants, but we think the ground rules of the reintroduction proposal should be clear from the outset,” Doug Honnold, a defense fund lawyer in Bozeman, Mont., said.
Honnold said the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boise Thursday afternoon on behalf of The Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Predator Project, Sinapu and the Gray Wolf Committee, would not seek to block plans to transplant 30 wolves from Alberta to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.
“We are only asking the court to declare that Idaho’s natural wolves, the wolves that are already on the ground, that have begun recolonizing Idaho’s wildlands, are entitled to full legal protections,” he said.
There are no known wolf packs in Idaho, but Fish and Wildlife Service biologists have concluded that two or more wolves do occasionally live in the state and detection of a naturally occurring wolf pack in Idaho is likely within five years.
In addition, agency officials have said nine wolf packs are known to live within 150 miles of central Idaho while in the 1980s only two packs lived within the same area.
Honnold said Fish and Wildlife’s reintroduction plan fails to protect Idaho’s existing wolves, those that migrate to Idaho naturally from northwestern Montana and Canada, or offspring of crossbreeding between those wolves and the animals that would be transplanted to Idaho.
The Rocky Mountain gray wolf is on the endangered species list. But the Fish and Wildlife reintroduction plan calls for establishing “experimental” populations of wolves in central Idaho and Yellowstone that ranchers could kill if they preyed on livestock.
“In one stroke, the service has essentially removed Idaho’s wolves from the list of endangered species,” Honnold said. “Without the full protections of the Endangered Species Act, the chances of wolves truly recovering in Idaho are slim.”
Environmentalists also contend the Fish and Wildlife plan fails to require protection of important wolf habitat and allows land managers to proceed with development.
Meanwhile, the agency prepared to begin capturing Canadian wolves this weekend for transplant to the northern Rockies, and the American Farm Bureau Federation and Mountain States Legal Foundation announced they would contest this week’s federal court ruling in Wyoming that rejected the groups’ petition to block reintroduction.