MISSOULA — Wolf advocates have decided not to appeal a federal judge’s decision that let wolf hunting seasons go forward in Idaho and Montana.
“We’re anxious to get to the merits of our case,” said Doug Honnold, attorney for Earthjustice, which represents 14 environmental and conservation groups that want federal protection restored for the gray wolf in the two states.
Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said focusing on the main lawsuit might lead to a decision while the hunts are still in progress.
“We are concerned about the effect on wolves of hunts that do not conclude in Idaho until March 31, 2010,” Garrity said. “We hope this will help the judge to reach a decision as soon as possible.”
The groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in April over its decision to remove federal protection for wolves in Idaho and Montana, but not Wyoming. Earthjustice argues that delisting shouldn’t occur until Wyoming also has an acceptable wolf management plan.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula has not set a schedule for briefings or hearings on the lawsuit. However, in issuing his Sept. 9 decision allowing the hunts to continue, he said it appeared the Fish and Wildlife Service appeared to have violated the Endangered Species Act when it carved Wyoming out of its decision to lift protections in May for wolves elsewhere in the region.
“The service has distinguished a natural population of wolves based on a political line, not the best available science. That, by definition, seems arbitrary and capricious,” Molloy wrote in his 14-page ruling.
Montana’s gray wolf season began at sunrise Tuesday in three districts in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and in the Beartooth Wilderness near Cooke City. Wolf hunting in the rest of the state opens on Oct. 25. About 8,500 licenses have been sold, and the state has a quota of 75 wolves.
Hunting began on Sept. 1 in parts of Idaho, other areas opened Tuesday while the bulk of the hunting areas open on Oct. 1. The state has a quota of 220 wolves.