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Wolves

The grey wolf has made a comeback across the Northern Rockies, thanks to federal protection, and Idaho and Montana now allow wolf hunting and trapping to keep the population in check.

Summary

Few wildlife conservation efforts have been as controversial as that of the grey wolf in the Northern Rockies. Federal efforts to protect the wolf have clashed with state efforts to control wolf populations and protect livestock and game from predation by wolf packs.

Idaho and Montana have been given federal authority to manage wolf numbers using public hunts. Federal officials require Idaho to maintain a population of at least 150 wolves and 10 breeding pairs.

Idaho wildlife officials have boosted bag limits, expanded trapping and extended hunting seasons in some areas to help further reduce wolf populations in all corners of the state. Its 10-month wolf season runs until June.

Idaho’s wolf managers estimated 500 to 600 wolves roamed the state as of spring 2012, down from the more than 1,000 when the 2011 hunting season opened in August.

Hunters and trappers killed 364 wolves since the 2011 season opened, while dozens more wolves have died of natural causes or been killed for preying on livestock or targeted as part of a strategy to lessen impacts on specific elk herds in the state.

A federal appeals court in March rejected a lawsuit from conservation groups that wanted to block wolf hunts across the Northern Rockies. The ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Congress had the right to intervene when it stripped protections from wolves in spring 2011.

Lawmakers stepped in after court rulings kept wolves on the endangered list for years after they reached recovery goals. Wildlife advocates claimed in their lawsuit that Congress violated the separation of powers by interfering with the courts. But the court said Congress was within its rights, and that lawmakers had appropriately amended the Endangered Species Act to deal with Northern Rockies wolves.

There are more than 1,700 wolves in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and expanding populations in portions of Eastern Washington and northeastern Oregon. Wolf hunting could resume in Wyoming this fall.

In parts of Montana, ranchers and local officials frustrated with continuing attacks on livestock have proposed bounties for hunters that kill wolves. Montana wildlife officials said they will consider ways to expand hunting after 166 wolves were killed this season, short of the state’s 220-wolf quota.

Wolves once thrived across North America but were exterminated across most of the continental U.S. by the 1930s, through government sponsored poisoning and bounty programs.

Wolves were put on the endangered list in 1974. Over the last two decades, state and federal agencies have spent more than $100 million on wolf restoration programs across the country. There are more than 4,500 of the animals in the upper Great Lakes and a struggling population of several dozen wolves in the Desert Southwest.

Prior lawsuits resulted first in the animals’ reintroduction to the Northern Rockies and then later kept them on the endangered list for a decade after the species reached recovery goal of 300 wolves in three states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is monitoring the hunts. But agency officials have said they have no plans to intervene because the states have pledged to manage wolves responsibly.

Federal officials have pledged to step in to restore endangered species protections if wolf numbers drop to less than 100 animals in either Montana or Idaho.

Even without hunting, wolves are shot regularly in the region in response to livestock attacks. Since their reintroduction, more than 1,600 wolves have been shot by government wildlife agents or ranchers.

Latest updates in this topic

Idaho wolf tags now on sale

The Idaho Department of Fish & Game has started selling wolf tags for a fall hunt, at a cost of $11.50 for Idaho resident hunters and $186 for non-residents, including vendor fees. A valid 2011 Idaho hunting license is required to buy a tag; they're available at Fish & Game offices and hunting license vendors.

Seasons, rules and limits haven't yet been set for Idaho's planned wolf hunt; the Fish & Game Commission will set those this summer. In Idaho's first state-sanctioned wolf hunt in 2009-2010, more than 31,000 tags were sold and 188 animals taken by hunters; the harvest limit was 220. A federal rule published today officially removed wolves in Idaho from endangered species protections, allowing the hunt plan to move forward.

Lawsuit challenges federal budget bill wolf delisting rider

WILDLIFE IN THE COURTS — Environmental groups are challenging as unconstitutional Congressional legislation that took gray wolves off the endangered species list, according to the Associated Press.

Two lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday, as control over more than 1,300 wolves was turned over to state authorities in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Utah.

A federal budget bill rider in April mandated the lifting of wolf protections.

Western lawmakers said they wanted to go around a federal judge who blocked prior efforts to hunt the animals.

But environmentalists say that violated the separation of powers required under the Constitution.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuits are the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater and WildEarth Guardians.

Montana and Idaho are planning to resume regulated wolf hunting seasons this fall.

Idaho begins selling wolf tags

HUNTING — Idaho Fish and Game has started selling wolf tags – $11.50 for resident hunters and $186 for nonresidents, vendor fees included.

Tags are available at license vendors and Fish and Game offices. A valid 2011 Idaho hunting license is required to buy a tag.

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published the rule that removed wolves in Idaho from the endangered species list. The rule took effect upon publishing.

Gray wolves are now under state management and considered a big game animal.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will set seasons, rules and limits later in the summer.

Idaho aims to act quickly on its plan to kill up to 60 wolves in a northcentral Idaho hunting area after the Obama Administration moved to delist the predators from Endangered Species Act protections. Aerial shooting likely will be employed.

Although official estimates put Idaho’s wolf population at 705, Idaho Fish and Game officials say the number after this year’s crop of pups emerges may exceed 1,000.

Two lawsuits challenge wolf de-listing

The AP reports that two lawsuits have been filed today in U.S. District Court challenging the congressional legislation that de-listed wolves as unconstitutional. Here's the item from AP in Billings:  BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Environmental groups are challenging as unconstitutional Congressional legislation that took gray wolves off the endangered species list. Two lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday, as control over more than 1,300 wolves was turned over to state authorities in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Utah. A federal budget bill rider in April mandated the lifting of wolf protections. Western lawmakers said they wanted to go around a federal judge who blocked prior efforts to hunt the animals. But environmentalists say that violated the separation of powers required under the Constitution. Plaintiffs in the lawsuits are the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater and WildEarth Guardians. Hunts for hundreds of wolves are planned this fall in Montana and Idaho.
  

Idaho congressional delegation on wolves: ‘Consider it a victory’

In a joint statement, Idaho's congressional delegation praised the Interior Department's move today to delist wolves, as directed by legislation crafted in party by Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson. “No one can rationally argue that the Rocky Mountain gray wolf is still endangered,” Simpson said. “Wolf populations in the west are robust and far exceed recovery goals. If the Endangered Species Act is going to be effective at all, we need to remove recovered species from the list and consider it a victory.”

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo said, “The wolf is recovered in the northern Rockies and the State of Idaho has proven that it can and will effectively and responsibly manage wolves.  Now that the federal government has taken this step, the State of Idaho can finally get to work.” Added Sen. Jim Risch, “Common sense has finally prevailed.” And Rep. Raul Labrador said, “The original purpose of the ESA has been perverted to do the bidding of activist environmentalists. This is the first step to ensuring these groups no longer misuse the ESA to permanently protect a species regardless of its recovery.” Click below for the delegation's full joint statement.
  

Defenders on wolves: ‘A terrible precedent’

Defenders of Wildlife has issued a statement in response to the de-listing of wolves in the Northern Rockies at congressional direction, calling it “a terrible precedent for side-stepping America's bedrock environmental laws whenever it's politically convenient to do so.” Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies representative for the group, said, “We will be watching closely over the next several months as Idaho and Montana gear up to manage wolves once again. Even though the vast majority of Americans still continue to support wolf recovery, it will be up to dedicated conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts in Idaho and Montana to hold their elected officials accountable for how they manage wolves. We must stand up to the anti-wolf extremists who want to turn back the clock and eradicate wolves once again.” Click below for the group's full statement.

Otter on wolves: ‘We didn’t want them here at all’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, answering reporters' questions at a ceremonial bill-signing ceremony in Greenleaf today, said, “Not more than 20 minutes ago, I received word from Secretary Salazar that wolves will be delisted tomorrow. When we knew that Congressman Simpson and Congressman Rehberg from Montana and other folks that worked so hard to get that continuing resolution (wolf de-listing) amendment, I immediately got a hold of the Fish and Game Commission, and the new director, Virgil Moore, and asked them to start preparing, right now, a responsible management plan, not unlike what we did in ’09, so we have a good boiler plate. We have got a good primer on how to do it correctly and responsibly.”

He said, “You can probably expect within the next couple of weeks some announcements on the calendar of when the wolf hunt will begin, how many we will be taking. In ’09 our quota was 220. We successfully took 188 wolves and it will be that same kind of response and that same kind of responsible management plan.”

Otter added, “Actually we didn’t want them here at all. But they said ‘don’t worry about it, because you will only have a hundred wolves.' It is estimated we have over 1700. So we have far exceeded their expectations, and so  it is time to do the right thing. And Secretary Salazar, under the direction of the concurrent resolution, is doing the right thing.”

Idaho gears up for Lolo wolf kill, fall wolf-hunting season

Now that wolves are once again being removed from Endangered Species Act protections, Idaho Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore says the state is gearing up for a fall wolf hunting season and will move immediately to reduce wolf numbers in the Lolo zone. The state had been awaiting approval from federal authorities to kill wolves there under Section 10J of the ESA; that no longer applies, now that the state is taking over wolf management again, and the department can go ahead on its own. Aerial shooting, summer trapping and other measures are possible there, in what Moore characterized as a “multi-year operation.” “We're going to move expeditiously to get going with all that,” Moore said from his office at Idaho Fish & Game headquarters, where he answered reporters' questions today.

It's not yet clear how many wolf kills Idaho will authorize in the fall hunt; the Fish & Game Commission will decide that this summer. Last time, the state set a harvest limit of 220 animals and sold more than 31,000 tags. “It's probably going to look very similar to what we had in 2009 and 2010,” Moore said. “We saw a significant drop in the number of livestock wolf depredations after that hunting season.”

Current official estimates are that Idaho has a minimum of 705 wolves, but state game manager Jon Rachael said state Fish & Game wasn't involved in the monitoring in the last part of this year, and believes the number likely is closer to 1,000. As many as nine packs in remote areas may have been missed in the most recent survey, Rachael said.

Moore said Idaho's goal, as set by the state Legislature, will be to manage its wolf population in such a way that there's no risk of falling below the federal minimum of 150 wolves in the state at any time and risking federal sanctions or re-listing. “Wolves are here to stay, OK, they are part of the landscape,” he said. “Whether you agree with how they got here or why they got here, they are now wards of the state and we will manage them appropriately, in balance with the management goals we have for other species, and we will avoid any risk of ever getting these things back listed again in our management actions, just like we plan to do with all species that we have.”

Groups sue to stop Oregon wolf kill

PREDATORS — A plan announced Monday to kill two Oregon wolves from a pack that killed livestock near Joseph, Ore., was quickly challenged in court Tuesday by conservation groups.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife authorities want to capture and kill two young wolves from the Imnaha pack in northeastern Oregon after the latest in a series of livestock kills. The federal biologists say killing two wolves might preclude the need to kill more of the pack and disrupt their breeding and social network.

However, the conservation groups filed a lawsuit in in U.S. District Court in Portland to block the killings, saying the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had not done the formal environmental review called for by law before making the decision.

Read on for more of the story from the Associated Press.

Wolves now officially de-listed

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has announced it's reinstating its 2009 decision to remove the gray wolf in the Northern Rocky Mountains from the endangered species list - a decision that affects Idaho, Montana, and parts of Oregon, Washington and Utah, but excludes Wyoming, “although the Service is working closely with that state to develop a wolf management plan that would allow wolves in Wyoming to be removed from the list in the future,” according to a FWS news release.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, “Like other iconic species such as the whooping crane, the brown pelican, and the bald eagle, the recovery of the gray wolf is another success story of the Endangered Species Act.” But it was recently passed congressional legislation that took the wolves back off the endangered list, reversing a federal court decision. A final rule published by the agency today reinstates the terms of its 2009 delisting, as directed by the legislation.

“We are implementing the recent legislation that directs the delisting of the gray wolf in most of the Northern Rocky Mountains,” said Interior Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes. “As with other delisted species, we will be applying the Endangered Species Act’s post-delisting monitoring requirements to ensure that wolf populations remain robust, while under state wildlife management.” That includes wolf hunts proposed in both Idaho and Montana. You can read the full FWS news release here, and click below for a full report from the Associated Press.

Wolves Delisted In Idaho, Montana

Wolves will be delisted in the Northern Rockies except Wyoming on Thursday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said. The rule would reinstate the 2009 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the gray wolf in Idaho and Montana, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and northern Utah. Salazar said the US. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to monitor wolf populations in the region for at least five years. But he is confident the states will protect the predator that has prompted wide controversy. “We don't expect any problems,” Salazar said/Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman. More here. (AP file photo)

Question: Do you applaud/denounce this development?

Two Oregon wolves to be targeted after another livestock death

PREDATORS — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it has authorized the killing of two young wolves from the Imnaha pack in northeastern Oregon after another livestock kill was confirmed.

An investigation determined a calf carcass found Saturday near Joseph was the product of a wolf kill.

Nonlethal measures such as electric fences have not kept the pack from livestock, so lethal controls are in order, officials said.

The plan is to capture and kill two sub-adults from the pack, which numbers 10 to 14 wolves. That could be enough to discourage the pack from attacking livestock without affecting breeding.

Two wolves from the same pack were under a state kill order last summer, but that was lifted after conservation groups challenged it.

Read on for details from the just-issued press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Idaho set out goals for managing wolves

WILDLIFE — Idaho Fish and Game Department biologists have wasted no time gearing up for their renewed chance to begin managing wolves on the state level, even though some federal guidelines still apply.

The federal budget bill passed by Congress included a rider that removes wolves from many endangered species protections and once again put the re-introduced species under state management under the provisions of the 2002 Idaho Wolf Management Plan. 

Read on for updates from Jim Hayden, Idaho Fish and Game's Panhandle Region wildlife manager:

Otter signs wolf disaster bill into law despite separation of powers concerns

Gov. Butch Otter has signed HB 343, the wolf disaster emergency bill, into law despite concerns he expressed in a two-page letter about the bill. “My concerns with the legislation are not whether it is an appropriate response to the devastation that wolves have caused,” Otter wrote in an official signing letter to Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “I understand and share the frustration of Idahoans over the impact wolves have had across our state in the past 16 years. However, I am concerned that H343 is largely unnecessary, and it unintentionally infringes on the statutory authority of the governor to declare disasters.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Nevertheless, he signed it into law. Otter said in his letter that the Legislature “has agreed to work with me next session to fix the provisions that infringe on the authority vested in the governor to declare disasters,” and, he said, “portions of this bill may prove useful in the future if state management is revoked or the species is relisted under the Endangered Species Act.” Under congressional legislation authored in part by Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson and signed into law by President Barack Obama last week, wolves are being removed from endangered species protection in Idaho. Otter wrote, “I have asked the IDFG to focus on resuming state management of wolves pursuant to our state management plan.” You can read Otter's letter here; and click below for his news release.

Wolf ruling highlights success, not failure

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Much has been written since Friday when President Obama signed the federal budget which included a rider that removed Northern Rockies gray wolves from most endangered species protections.
 
Our story on the rider had a helpful Q&A.   I followed with a blog post that spelled out more details.
 
Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman commented that Environmental groups over-reached on wolves .
 
Personally, I believe we should be celebrating the amazing recovery wolves have made since being reintroduced in 1995. It's remarkable, and worth a toast.
 
Here's what the federal government's wolf recovery point man said:
 
“The bottom line is science is being followed. The heavy lifting is over, and that's cool. My upbringing was to complete your job; when we started there were 10 wolves near Glacier. Now there's 1,700 in six states and they're being delisted. That’s pretty rewarding.”
 
Ed Bangs, who is retiring as wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in June, about his 23 years working on wolf reintroduction.
- Helena Independent Record
 
Read on for a comment I requested for a Washington wildlife biologist, whose opinion I respect even though this biologist does not deal specifically with wolves.
 
 

Now that Obama’s signed bill, wolves could be off endangered list in 60 days

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Federal wildlife officials say they will take more than 1,300 gray wolves in the Northern Rockies off the endangered species list within 60 days. An attachment to the budget bill signed into law Friday by President Barack Obama strips protections from wolves in five Western states. It marks the first time Congress has taken a species off the endangered list. Idaho and Montana plan public wolf hunts this fall. Hunts last year were canceled after a judge ruled the predators remained at risk. Protections remain in place for wolves in Wyoming because of its shoot-on-sight law for the predators. There are no immediate plans to hunt the small wolf populations in Oregon and Washington. No packs have been established in Utah.

State officials eager to regain wolf management control

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Montana officials wasted no time today praising the budget rider Congress approved to remove endangered species protections from gray wolves in the Northern Rockies.

Wolves will still be protected in many ways, but limited hunting seasons once again can be set by Idaho and Montana.

Defenders of Wildlife called wolves 'sacrificial lambs” included in the budget bill President Barack Obama almost surely will sign.

Many questions people have about the rider are answered in today's news story by staff reporter Becky Kramer.

Meantime, Montana wildlife officials are heaping praise on U.S. Sen. Jon Tester today as a Congressional measure he helped craft removed gray wolves from the list of threatened and endangered species in Montana, Idaho, and parts Oregon, Washington and Utah.

“Finally,” said Joe Maurier, director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks said when he learned that the brief 104-word measure passed into federal law along with the budget bill that will fund the federal government through September.

“Enough is enough – Montana must have the ability to manage wildlife, to do our job, to seek a balance among predator and prey,” said Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. “We need the authority to respond to the challenges wolves present every day. This is a common sense measure that will ensure good management of wolves through Montana’s existing plan, which allows for healthy numbers of wolves and safeguards the interests of ranchers and sportsmen.”

Maurier said the state will begin to prepare a hunting season proposal for the FWP Commission to consider.  Idaho officials say they will, too.

Within 60 days of the enactment of a new federal law, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior will reissue the wolf delisting rule first published in April 2009. Unlike delisting rules issued in the past, this Congressional action also excludes the rule from judicial review.

The reissued rule:

  • is effective upon publication in the Federal Register.
  • delists all wolves in Montana, Idaho—and in portions of Washington, Oregon and Utah
  • does not delist wolves in Wyoming.
  • authorizes Montana to manage wolves under the state's federally approved Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.

Congress removes Northern Rockies wolves from Endangered Species protection

ENDANGERED SPECIES — It's official. Gray wolves soon will be delisted as endangered species in the Northern Rockies, and states can begin wolf management programs.

Montana wildlife officials are heaping praise on U.S. Sen. Jon Tester today as a Congressional measure he helped craft removed gray wolves from the list of threatened and endangered species in Montana, Idaho, and parts Oregon, Washington and Utah.

Within 60 days of the enactment of a new federal law, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior will reissue the wolf delisting rule first published in April 2009. Unlike delisting rules issued in the past, this Congressional action also excludes the rule from judicial review.

The reissued rule:

  • is effective upon publication in the Federal Register.
  • delists all wolves in Montana, Idaho—and in portions of Washington, Oregon and Utah
  • does not delist wolves in Wyoming.
  • authorizes Montana to manage wolves under the state's federally approved Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.

Idaho holds wolf bill pending action in Congress

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has a hunch that Congress is about to remove wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains from the Endangered Species list. So he's holding off on signing a state bill that would allow him to declare a wolf disaster emergency.

If Congress follows through, Otter says Idaho would win state control of the predators - making signing the measure passed by the state Idaho House and Senate this month unnecessary, the Idaho Statesman reports.

Otter says the congressional delisting measure inserted into a complex federal budget measure by U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson “gives control back to the state…where it should have been all along.”

Idaho's measure would let Otter enlist local law enforcement agents to reduce Idaho's wolf population, which at 800 animals makes up about half of the wolves in the region.

Wolf delisting appears likely as measure joins federal budget bill

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A measure taking gray wolves off federal Endangered Species Act protection made it into the must-pass U.S. Senate budget bill, as explained in a Missoulian story.

Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus, both Democrats, placed a rider in the 2011 Appropriations Bill reauthorizing a 2009 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule delisting the gray wolf in the northern Rocky Mountains.

Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson placed identical language in the House version of the budget bill, giving the measure bipartisan momentum. The full budget bill should be voted on late Thursday or Friday.

The move would give Montana and Idaho wildlife agencies management authority over the predator, which would allow the return of public wolf hunting. And it would block any further court action on the FWS rule.