Gray wolves in most of the Northern Rockies will be removed from the endangered species list under a policy rider attached to Congress’ budget bill.
The rider returns wolf management to Idaho and Montana, ending two years of court battles over whether wolf populations are thriving or endangered. And it allows public wolf hunts this fall.
Many environmental groups criticized the budget rider, calling it a political maneuver designed to circumvent the Endangered Species Act. Western members of Congress said the rider was necessary to end a drawn-out legal battle. Wolves have been delisted and relisted, with wolf management shuffling between states and the federal government.
Last weekend, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy of Montana rejected a settlement proposed by environmental groups and the federal government that would have allowed the states of Idaho and Montana to manage their wolf packs but kept federal protections for wolves in other parts of the Northern Rockies.
“Judge Molloy’s decision means wolves will remain on the federally protected list indefinitely without congressional action,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who co-authored the rider.
Bipartisan support came from U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, who called the rider “a win for rural America, for jobs, and for our wildlife – and it’s what’s right for the wolves themselves.”
Here are answers to some questions about wolves and the rider:
Q.What’s the size of the Northern Rockies wolf population?
A.About 1,600 wolves.
Q.Where will wolves lose endangered species status?
A.In Idaho, Montana, Utah and the eastern third of Washington and Oregon. Wolves will remain federally protected in Wyoming until the state develops a wolf management plan that’s approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Q.Will public wolf hunts resume in Idaho and Montana?
A.Yes, said Simpson. Both states can stage public wolf hunts this fall.
Q.What are the rider’s critics saying?
A.The rider is “a significant blow” to the Endangered Species Act, said Andrew Wetzler of the Natural Resource Defense Council.
“Leaders from both parties are completely undercutting the basic principle of American wildlife conservation: that science should dictate which plants and animals will be protected, not the whims of politicians,” he said.
Q.What is Idaho’s position?
A.Gov. Butch Otter supported the rider’s passage, according to spokesman Jon Hanian.
Delisting the wolves “gives us back one of our most effective management tools – a hunting season,” Hanian said. “We’ve proven that we can responsibly manage these predators.”
Idaho has about 700 wolves. “Our view is that they’ve had a robust recovery,” Hanian said.
Q.How will the rider affect Washington’s wolves?
A.Washington has a much smaller wolf population than Idaho with only two confirmed wolf packs – one in the Methow Valley and one in Pend Oreille County.
Wolves will remain a “state endangered species,” said Madonna Luers, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman.
The department is working on wolf management plan to reduce future conflicts as Washington’s wolf population grows.
A public meeting on the draft plan is planned for June in Ellensburg.
Q.Will Washington someday have a public wolf hunt?
A.“The short answer is maybe,” Luers said. “In our state, it’s probably a long way down the road.”