PASADENA, Calif. – Wildlife advocates appeared in federal court Tuesday seeking to stop gray wolf hunts that are already well under way in the Northern Rockies, arguing that Congress overstepped its authority in stripping federal protections from the canines.
Federal biologists say the wolf population is healthy enough to support the hunts in Idaho and Montana. The two states want to drive down the predators’ numbers to curb their attacks on livestock and big game herds.
But wildlife advocates say too many wolves are being shot too quickly, threatening to unravel the species’ decades-long recovery.
Almost 170 wolves have been shot since hunting began in late August.
“The longer the hunting season goes on, the more risk to the population in total,” said James “Jay” Tutchton, an attorney who spoke on behalf of WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups that sued Interior Secretary Ken Salazar after wolves lost their federal protections.
The hunts were allowed after Congress last spring took the unprecedented step of stripping endangered species protections from more than 1,300 wolves. That prompted a lawsuit from wildlife advocates who say Congress effectively reversed prior court rulings.
Tuesday’s hearing was before a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Calif.
The 9th Circuit agreed to hear the case on an expedited basis. But several groups involved in the lawsuit requested an injunction to stop the killing of wolves while the case is pending.