A federal court on Thursday allowed 12 wolves from Canada to be freed from their small travel kennels and released in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late Thursday approved a request by the U.S. Department of Justice to lift the stay it had issued Wednesday that blocked release of the wolves.
The stay, requested by the American Farm Bureau Federation and Mountain States Legal Foundation, originally was to expire today, but the Justice Department said the extra 24 hours in the small boxes could hurt the wolves.
“The crates are not suitable for holding wolves for more than 48 hours,” the pleadings said. “Some of the animals are already showing signs of stress, biting at their cages and possibly injuring their teeth and mouths.”
Mountain States and the Farm Bureau, in a lawsuit, are challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to return wolves to the region. The stay was issued to give the appeals court a chance to review a request from the two groups for an injunction to halt the release until the lawsuit can be heard.
The stay was issued Wednesday as 12 wolves - eight bound for Yellowstone and four heading to Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness - were being flown to Montana from western Alberta, where they had been captured.
When the stay was granted, Yellowstone officials decided to proceed with plans to put the wolves in pens in the Lamar Valley, but to leave the animals in their kennels.
The wolves bound for Idaho were put in a facility in Missoula, Mont., but also remained in the boxes, said Mike Smith, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman in Denver.
The stay raised the ire of conservation and animal rights groups, who criticized the decision to keep the wolves in the travel kennels.
“We now have helpless wild wolves, including a number of pups, trapped in crates,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. “It would be inhumane to leave them there.”
“Whatever the merits or demerits of returning wolves to Yellowstone, there are not two schools on the humane treatment issue,” said Allen Rutberg, a senior scientist for wildlife and habitat protection at HSUS. “Keeping wild wolves in tiny crates for an extended time period is palpably inhumane. We urge the immediate release of the wolves into the prepared enclosure…”
The groups and the Justice Department also criticized the Farm Bureau and Mountain States for waiting until the wolves were on their way to Yellowstone and Idaho to obtain the stay.
But William Perry Pendley, president of Mountain States, said the groups did not wait to seek the stay.
“We went in as soon as we could, we had to scramble to prepare something for the 10th (Circuit) Court,” Pendley said.
Larry Bourett, executive vice president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau, said the federal government should have anticipated such action.