HELENA – A judge’s ruling to restore federal protections for the Rocky Mountain gray wolf has scuttled settlement talks between the parties involved in a lawsuit that had been scheduled for next week.
Instead, organizers will likely have to wait until the furor has died down from U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy’s Thursday ruling before gauging interest in trying again, people involved with the planning said Friday.
Some believe that there’s not much point to the talks now. After Molloy’s ruling, Idaho wildlife officials canceled their flights to Helena.
The meeting had been set for Wednesday in Helena and would have brought together several of the wildlife advocacy groups that filed the lawsuit, along with officials from Montana, Idaho and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
There was no settlement offer on the table, but the participants had hoped to find common ground that might lead to ending the lawsuit challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf and turn over management to Montana and Idaho.
“It was basically a discussion of whether there are options as far as a settlement,” said Ron Aasheim, spokesman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision last year only removed federal protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho, while keeping the protections in Wyoming and elsewhere.
Molloy ruled Thursday that decision did not comply with the Endangered Species Act: The whole Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population must be protected, he ruled, not just those in Wyoming, where state law is considered hostile to the species’ survival.
With the decision likely to be appealed, and several other matters in the lawsuit unresolved, the case is likely to keep going.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Doug Honnold of Earthjustice and Montana state officials said a meeting between the parties would still be useful.
The plaintiffs want to talk about reshaping the federal recovery plan for the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf to raise the 300 wolves the plan puts as the minimum number for the species’s recovery, Honnold said.
The wolf population has grown each year since they were reintroduced in the northern Rockies in 1995. There are now more than 1,700 wolves in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and parts of Oregon and Washington state.
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