Latest: Gray wolves delisted in Wyoming

http://www.hcn.org/articles/latest-gray-wolves-are-no-longer-endangered

  • A gray wolf in Wyoming’s upper Gros Ventre drainage.

    Mark Gocke/Wyoming Game and Fish Department

BACKSTORY
In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced endangered gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho, and they soon spread throughout the Northern Rockies. After a series of lawsuits, in 2011 Congress delisted wolves in Montana, Idaho and parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah. (“How the gray wolf lost its endangered status— and how enviros helped,” HCN, 6/6/11). In Wyoming, wolves remained listed until 2012, when they came under state management. Conservation groups sued, and federal protection was restored in 2014.

FOLLOWUP
In a March 3 ruling, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision. Wyoming’s wolves will again be placed under state management, and Wyoming will implement its 2012 plan, which allows wolves to be shot on sight across most of the state. “This decision highlights that Congress should not step in to block judicial review under the Endangered Species Act,” wrote Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso in a statement. Plaintiffs say they may ask for a rehearing.

After court ruling, wolves could soon be shot on sight in Wyoming

 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/03/03/wolves-could-soon-be-shot-on-sight-in-wyoming-an-appeals-court-rules/?utm_term=.35e9f6eb5bf5
March 3 at 7:23 PM

A federal appeals court ruling stripped wolves of their protections in Wyoming on Friday, which could allow them to be shot on sight.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided in favor of Wyoming’s wolf management plan, which treats the animals as vermin. The court’s decision overturned a lower-court ruling that sided with conservationists who fought a state law that allowed the unlimited slaughter of wolves in a “predator zone that extended through most of the state,” the environmental groups said.

 

“Wyoming’s plan to shoot wolves on sight throughout most of the state was a bad idea when it was proposed, and it’s a bad idea now,” said Rebecca Riley, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that fought the plan. “The court’s decision to lift federal protections for wolves in Wyoming will be a step backward for wolf recovery in the West.”

Wolves were hunted to near extinction in the lower 48 states. Following a slight recovery after federal protections were granted in 1978, they exist on only 10 percent of their historic range. Many of the wolves that could lose their protection live outside the borders of Yellowstone National Park, where hunting is prohibited and where the wolves have been reintroduced.

Environmental groups earlier convinced a lower court that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Obama administration should not have moved to remove endangered-species protection for wolves based on promises from Wyoming that it would not harm them in certain areas.

The appeals court essentially ruled that the federal agency had reason to trust Wyoming’s word.

Wyoming’s “promises to protect wolves don’t amount to much” in a state that allows aggressive hunting, said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity. Wolves trying to make it to the southern Rocky Mountains to mate or establish territory “have to make it through the shoot-on-sight zone,” a deadly journey that could once again lower their population, he said.

Midwest, Wyoming lawmakers target wolf protections again

 https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/energy-environment/midwest-wyoming-lawmakers-target-wolf-protections-again/2017/02/26/5e4ce15c-fc50-11e6-9b78-824ccab94435_story.html?utm_term=.73e2d4001ac9
February 26
MINNEAPOLIS — Pressure is building in Congress to take gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region and Wyoming off the endangered list, which would allow farmers to kill the animals if they threaten livestock.

Representatives from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming have asked House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin for a fast floor vote before the season during which most cows and sheep will give birth begins in earnest. That followed testimony before a Senate committee a week earlier from the president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, who said producers need to be able to defend their livestock and livelihoods.

Meanwhile, both sides in the debate are waiting for a federal appeals court to decide whether to uphold lower court rulings that put wolves in the four states back on the list or to let the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service return management of the species to the states, which it has wanted to do for years.

Here’s a look at some of the issues:

THE LETTER

 U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, sent a letter co-signed by seven of his colleagues from the four states to House leaders urging a quick floor vote on a bill to return their wolves to state management. A key component of both is language that would prevent the courts from intervening.

The representatives said it’s urgent because calving season is when cows and calves are most vulnerable.

“As you know, cows and their calves can easily be worth several thousand dollars, so each instance of a wolf attack has devastating economic impacts on ranchers and their families. Currently, ranchers and farmers have no legal actions available to deal with gray wolf attacks because these predators are federally protected,” they wrote.

Peterson said in an interview that they very nearly passed a similar provision in the last Congress and that he thinks they have a decent shot at persuading Ryan to grant an early floor vote. Otherwise they’ll try to attach the language to a bigger appropriations bill later. The legislation is similar to what Congress used to delist wolves in Montana and Idaho in 2011 after courts blocked the federal government’s attempts to lift protections in those states.

“Wolves are not endangered,” Peterson said.

THE HEARING

The Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works held an informational hearing Feb. 15 billed as “Modernization of the Endangered Species Act.” Jim Holte, president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, complained that it’s been illegal for farmers in the region to kill wolves that prey on their livestock since wolves went back on the list.

“As wolf populations continue to increase, interactions between farmers, their livestock, rural residents and wolves continue to escalate without a remedy in sight,” Holte testified.

THE COURTS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has long contended that wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming have recovered to the point where they’re no longer threatened, so hunting and trapping can be allowed under state control.

Gray wolves were once hunted to the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states, but they recovered under Endangered Species Act protections and reintroduction programs to the point where they now number around 5,500, according to the service. The combined gray wolf population of the three western Great Lakes states is now about 4,000, while Wyoming has roughly 400. The agency describes wolf numbers in those states as “robust, stable and self-sustaining.”

But federal courts have blocked multiple attempts to take them off the endangered list, most recently in 2014. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last fall heard oral arguments in challenges to those rulings but hasn’t ruled on them yet.

THE OPPOSITION

Groups that support the federal protections say it’s premature to lift them because wolves are still missing from most of their historical range. They’ve been able to persuade the courts that the terms of the Endangered Species Act requires recovery in more than just a few states, even though the Fish and Wildlife Service disagreed.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said he’s skeptical that the latest congressional efforts will get much traction. He said Peterson and the other representatives who sent the letter are just sending a message to their constituents that they’re still trying.

Manmade problem led wolves to kill elk

http://trib.com/opinion/columns/lloyd-manmade-problem-led-wolves-to-kill-elk/article_163910e6-0a09-5f83-8e3d-e82bce14f0eb.html

By Jared Lloyd

A lot of noise has been made about the 19 elk killed last month by a pack of wolves in Bondurant. What has been lost throughout much of the coverage are the facts about what actually led to this extremely rare occurrence. Behind the headlines is a manmade story. To be able to understand what went down that night in Wyoming, these facts need to be understood.

To begin with, the elk in question were killed on a feedlot. Just like cattle, in Wyoming elk have feedlots as well. Picture anywhere between a few hundred to a few thousand “wild” elk standing around waiting to be fed. Wyoming has elk feedlots all over the place. Come winter, these feeding grounds shovel out bales of hay for the elk like they are livestock. Elk are heavily concentrated in these feedlots, fed all winter long, and have learned to just stand around waiting for their daily handouts.

So why does Wyoming feed elk in the first place? Is it because predators in the ecosystem are killing so many? No. Wyoming actually considers elk to be overpopulated. This practice was started in part to keep elk from competing with cattle back when predators across the Rocky Mountains were at their lowest numbers. In the absence of predators, elk populations exploded. Come winter, these animals would flood onto ranches in search of food, gorging themselves on stocks of hay.

So what has all this done to the elk? Quite simply, elk no longer act like elk. Given that these animals have grown up in a relatively predator-free environment for nearly 100 years, elk are now being forced to come to terms with the reality of predators again. And in order to survive, lesson number one is not to stand around in groups of a several thousand, in one place, for months on end waiting for handouts from humans.

So what did the wolves do? They committed what is known as surplus killing. Occasionally, when prey is so plentiful, predators will kill multiple animals in one go. Scientists state that when faced with a bonanza such as the feedlot provided, wolves may kill with the intention to return as often as that food is available.

More: http://trib.com/opinion/columns/lloyd-manmade-problem-led-wolves-to-kill-elk/article_163910e6-0a09-5f83-8e3d-e82bce14f0eb.html

copyrighted wolf in water

WY “Anticipates” Grizzly Bear Hunting

Featured Image -- 10557

http://www.wyofile.com/states-feds-agree-least-600-yellowstone-area-grizzlies/

By | December 7, 2015

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department would recommend no hunting of mother grizzly bears with cubs-of-the-year at their side if and when it proposes a hunting season, an agency spokesman said Monday.

The state anticipates adopting regulations that follow “standard wildlife practices,” such as the prohibition against hunting mothers with cubs, Game and Fish spokesman Renny MacKay said. Wyoming could manage Yellowstone-area grizzly bears if and when federal protections are lifted as federal wildlife officials anticipate.

“It is something we would be willing to bring forward to the commission,” MacKay said of the prohibition. “We do that with mountain lions, we do that with black bears.”

Wyoming also is committed to a grizzly population that includes well-distributed females of reproductive age. That’s one of the federal benchmarks for determining whether the Yellowstone ecosystem grizzly still needs protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“That’s something Wyoming is absolutely committed to maintain,” MacKay said.

Several aspects of the delisting process still have to play out, including release by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of a conservation plan, a proposed rule and population-monitoring documents. Wyoming, Idaho and Montana also would have to adopt state regulations if they want to have hunting seasons.

Wyoming’s Game and Fish Commission, a body appointed by the governor, is charged with setting such regulations and seasons in Wyoming.

“Ultimately, if Wyoming takes over management of grizzly bears again, we have to ensure a recovered population,” MacKay said. “That’s at the heart of all of this. We want the flexibility to be able to adjust to changing conditions, changing populations and changing science.”

Sierra Club doesn’t like the idea of a 600-bear trigger before “discretionary mortality” ceases, said Bonnie Rice, senior representative for the organization’s Greater Yellowstone/Northern Rockies campaign.

“We disagree with driving down the population,” she said Monday. “Six hundred bears is well below the current estimate, so that is of great concern to us in terms of [potentially] reducing the population by over 100 bears.”

She and other conservationists still see threats to grizzlies, including that Yellowstone-area bears are an isolated population. Having fewer bears would decrease the chance of naturally connecting Yellowstone grizzlies with other populations, she said.

“One of the biggest things for us is linkage zones,” Rice said.

She’s also worried how states will balance and coordinate on the number of bears killed and how any multi-state limits might be enforced. “We don’t have that framework yet,” she said.

Other groups also reacted. “Once again we see Director Ashe cutting deals for political expediency instead of following the science,” Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement. “The Endangered Species Act is incredibly effective at recovering imperiled species, and will do so for grizzlies across their range, but only if they retain protections until the science clearly demonstrates recovery.”

Genetic isolation from other populations worries Western Watersheds Project, a spokesman for that group said in a statement. “Recovery isn’t a math equation, it’s a geography question,” said Josh Osher, Montana director for the group. “The states’ tentative agreement with the Service fails to ensure connectivity throughout the species’ range and fails to address the livestock operations that are the root cause of lethal conflict for the grizzly bear.”

Letter from Washington provoked discussion

The country’s top wildlife official wrote state game chiefs in September agreeing the Yellowstone-area grizzly bear population could decline to 600 — 114 fewer than today’s count of 714 — once federal protections are lifted.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe’s Sept. 24 letter to Wyoming, Idaho and Montana officials was confirming the minimum number of bears and other measures the four agencies had agreed to at that point. Until the 600-bear trigger is reached, “discretionary mortality” of grizzly bears — which could include hunting — could continue.

Ashe and state officials are negotiating a complex agreement that would see the bear removed from protections of the Endangered Species Act and put under state management. Such a move would open the door to grizzly bear hunting in the three states but not in Yellowstone and most of Grand Teton national parks.

Details of the talks have been closely guarded, and state and federal officials have not confirmed details of the September letter obtained by WyoFile over the weekend.

Ashe and the three state wildlife directors met twice in September, Ashe wrote, at which time they hammered out the details. “Based on these two meetings, I believe we have a mutually understood process that will allow the Service to proceed with a proposed delisting proposal…” to remove the Yellowstone grizzly from ESA protection, Ash’s letter said.

The bottom-line number is one of several trigger points set in the letter. When bears number between 600 and 673, annual female bear losses — including through expected hunting seasons — would be limited to 7.6 percent, and to 15 percent of the male population. More liberal losses — 10 percent female and 22 percent male — would be allowed when there are more than 747 bears, the letter states.

But federal and state agencies did not wrap up all aspects of post-delisting grizzly bear management in September, and Ashe’s letter acknowledges that. One point of discussion appears to be whether matters usually left to states — like prohibiting the shooting of a mother bear with cubs by its side — could be required by the federal government before turning over authority.

“States have agreed to consider additional regulatory mechanisms that will be part of individual state management plans/regulations…” Ashe said in the letter. Those state regulations would be referenced in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisting rule, bringing them under federal jurisdiction, the letter says.

Agencies still working on final plans

“We’re looking at regulatory mechanisms that would be included in a new conservation strategy,” Wyoming Game and Fish Chief Game Warden Brian Nesvik said in a Nov. 12 interview with WyoFile. “That’s where the discussions have occurred. What needs to be identified in a delisting rule? What is under the purview of the three states?”

Wyoming wouldn’t manage grizzlies down to a minimum number, whatever that turns out to be, Nesvik said in November. In that interview, he said no final number had been agreed to.  “We have not discussed that to this point,” he said.

Wyoming’s wolf plan hews closely to the minimum population requirements set by the federal government. But wolves, as a species, reproduce faster than grizzly bears.

“I do not believe the Fish and Wildlife Service is interested in that same type of set of circumstances,” Nesvik said. “That has been part of the discussion. They’re interested in a different approach with bears.” Wyoming would “manage for a viable grizzly bear population well above the recovery criteria.”

Wyoming knows how to set big game and trophy hunting seasons, he said. “I think we would rely pretty heavily on our track record,” Nesvik said. For example, with black bears and mountain lions, “there’s certainly more [hunting] opportunity than there’s ever been,” he said.

“We would look to be able to manage grizzly bears in a manner consistent with the values we’ve held with those other species,” he said. “The public still needs to weigh in. The Game and Fish Commission has been very considerate of the fact the way we do business in this state is we include the public.”

Three critical pieces are necessary for delisting: a conservation strategy outlining long-term sideboards to ensure grizzly survival, an official proposed rule that sets administrative and legal parameters, and a document on population monitoring. After those are ushered through federal rulemaking and possible litigation, states would take over.

Federal and state officials are meeting in Missoula, Montana, for three days starting Tuesday when Wyoming Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott is scheduled to give a delisting presentation and update.

— This story has been updated to reflect that Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Scott Talbott is on the agenda for an update on grizzly delisting, not Brian Nesvik. Talbott is on the IGBC agenda with  Matt Hogan, deputy regional director of the USFWS — Ed.

 

Conservationists Challenge Grizzly Killing in Grand Teton National Park

Federally approved ‘take’ of grizzly bears threatens recovery

Grizzly bear and cub in Yellowstone National Park.

Grizzly bear and cub in Yellowstone National Park.  Jim Peaco / National Park Service

Washington, D.C. —(ENEWSPF)–April 6, 2015. Conservation groups have filed a legal challenge against two federal agencies for approving the killing of four grizzly bears, a threatened species, within Grand Teton National Park in northwest Wyoming.

The lawsuit, filed last Friday, April 3, by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club and Western Watersheds Project, targets September 2013 actions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Park Service to allow the lethal “taking” of four grizzly bears over the next seven years in connection with a fall elk hunt in Grand Teton National Park.

“Authorizing the killing of four grizzly bears in a national park is not good management for grizzlies or national parks,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “The government should be working to eliminate grizzly mortality threats, not handing out authorizations to kill grizzly bears in one of our nation’s premiere national parks.”

The agencies authorized the challenged grizzly “takings” in response to an incident on Thanksgiving Day 2012 in which three hunters participating in the Grand Teton elk hunt shot and killed an adult male grizzly bear.  Anticipating more such conflicts as the region’s grizzlies increasingly turn to meat-based food sources such as hunter-killed or wounded elk, federal officials in September 2013 approved the killing of four more grizzly bears in connection with future elk hunts in Grand Teton through the year 2022.

In doing so, however, government officials failed to consider the cumulative impacts of the expected Grand Teton “takings” together with other grizzly bear mortality that federal agencies have authorized.  The authorized killing of these four grizzlies, when added to the amount of other similar grizzly  “take” determinations issued by FWS and currently in effect for other actions in the Greater Yellowstone region, could result in the killing of as many as 65 female grizzly bears in a single year. This level of mortality exceeds sustainable levels for female bears set by government biologists by more than three times.

“Allowing four additional grizzly bears – a threatened species – to be killed in one our nation’s most iconic national parks, without even requiring significant measures to reduce conflicts between people and bears, is inexcusable,” said Bonnie Rice with Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. “The Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly increased the number of grizzly bears that can be killed, without looking at the broader impact on grizzly recovery in the region.”

“Throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service appears to have forgotten basic math,” added Jonathan Ratner of Western Watersheds Project.  “They have been handing out permits for the killing of grizzly bears like candy but they have conveniently forgotten to add up all of the take they have authorized.”

Legal Document: http://earthjustice.org/documents/legal-document/complaint-conservationists-challenge-grizzly-killing-in-grand-teton-national-park

Background:

Federal biologists acknowledge that the growth of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population has flattened over the past decade. Recently, the grizzly population has been faced with the loss of two of its most important food sources in the Yellowstone region—whitebark pine seeds and cutthroat trout—due to changing environmental conditions driven in part by a warming climate. In the wake of these changes, scientists have documented the bears’ transition to a more meat-based diet, but that diet leads to a greater potential for conflict with human activities, resulting in more grizzly mortalities.

Such increasing grizzly bear mortalities are of particular concern because analysis of government grizzly bear conflict and mortality data shows a declining population trend for the Yellowstone-area population from 2007-2013. Veteran grizzly biologist David Mattson documented these findings in a declaration supporting the conservationists’ challenge.

In its decision , FWS reasoned that approved grizzly killing associated with the Grand Teton elk hunt would remain within sustainable levels. However, the conservationists contend that FWS cannot rely on compliance with sustainable grizzly mortality thresholds to justify additional killing of Yellowstone bears unless federal officials consider the impacts of all the grizzly bear mortality they have anticipated across the region.

The Grand Teton elk hunt results from a misguided program of winter elk feeding on the nearby Jackson Hole National Elk Refuge. The longstanding elk feeding program began for the altruistic purpose of sustaining elk through the harsh Northern Rockies winter.  More recently, however, the crowding of elk on winter feed lines has been documented to subject the elk to a severe threat of wildlife disease mortality that outweighs the benefits of feeding.  Further, the practice has led to the artificial inflation of the elk population such that the extraordinary step of hunting in a national park—with associated grizzly bear mortality—has been deemed necessary to control elk numbers.

Matteson Declaration: http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/Mattson%20Declaration.pdf

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.

Source: www.earthjustice.org

Petition: Sign for Wyoming Mustangs!

Scene from, Wyoming Tourism Video

The State of Wyoming uses images of wild horses to promote itself as a place where the untamed and wild spirit of the American West still lives. Yet wild horses in Wyoming are hanging on by a thread, with just 2,500 left in the entire state.

The BLM Wyoming Resource Advisory Council (RAC) is meeting in Laramie, Wyoming on February 2-4, 2015, This citizen advisory board has within its jurisdiction all of Wyoming’s 16 wild horse Herd Management Areas. AWHPC is submitting comments, asking for the RAC’s support for humane reform of the BLM wild horse program and fairer treatment for Wyoming’s last remaining mustangs.

Sign Petition here: http://act.wildhorsepreservation.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=19230

What’s to Stop Them?

I attended the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) wolf hearing last week to find out how far the WDFW ultimately plans to go with wolf hunting, once wolves are inevitably removed from the state endangered species list, and when Washington residents can expect to hear that hunting groups are holding contest hunts on wolves like our neighbors in Idaho have already done.

It turns out the department wasn’t ready to come clean on their ultimate plans to implement hunting seasons on wolves (starting in Eastern Washington). They were only willing to talk about the few cases of sheep predation (a few dozen out of a flock of 1,800 animals grazing on public forest land), and the WDFW’s collusion with areal snipers from the federal Wildlife “Services” for some good old fashioned lethal removal. Here are some notes on what I was planning to say, had it been on topic:

Over the years spent living in rural Eastern Washington, I’ve gotten to know how ranchers think and feel, and what they’re capable of. For over twenty years I lived in a cabin outside the Okanogan County town of Twisp, where rancher/convicted poacher Bill White is currently under house arrest. Exploiting his then-good standing and local influence to get permission from the WDFW to gather road-killed deer, under the guise of distributing them as meat to members of the Colville tribe, he used some of the deer as bait to lure wolves from the Lookout pack to within shooting distance. He and his son are credited with killing several members of that pack—the first wolves to make it back into Washington. Their sense of entitlement was so overblown they thought they could get away with sending a blood-dripping wolf hide across the Canadian border.

On the plus side, I also have a lot of experiences with wolves themselves. As a wildlife photographer I’ve photographed them in Alaska and Canada as well as in Montana, where I lived a mile away from Yellowstone National Park. I got to know the real nature and behavior of wolves. I’d like to think that if ranchers knew the wolves the way I do, they wouldn’t be so quick to want to kill them off again. I shouldn’t have to remind folks that wolves were exterminated once already in all of the lower 48 states, except Minnesota, which had only six wolves remaining before the species was finally protected as endangered.

Although I personally believe that wolves belong to no one but themselves, to use game department jargon, wolves and other wildlife belong to everyone in the state equally—not just the squeakist-wheel ranchers and hunters. By far most of Washington’s residents want to see wolves allowed to live here and don’t agree with the department’s lethal wolf removal measures (that no doubt include plans for future wolf hunting seasons, which are currently being downplayed by the WDFW).

What’s to stop Washington from becoming just like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming in implementing reckless wolf-kill programs that eventually lead to contest hunts (as in Idaho) and the subsequent decimation of entire packs? Or year-round predator seasons that ultimately result in federal re-listing (as in Wyoming)? What guarantee do we have that Washington’s wolves will be treated any differently?

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Wyoming fights wolf decision, files emergency rule to allow hunting season

copyrighted Hayden wolf walking
September 25, 2014 6:00 am  • 
 

Wyoming filed an emergency rule Wednesday with the Secretary of State’s Office, hoping to still begin its wolf hunting season Oct. 1.

The move came a day after a Washington, D.C., judge placed wolves back on the endangered species list, which immediately stopped all wolf hunting in Wyoming.

The emergency regulation would place a Wyoming Game and Fish Commission wolf management plan into effect in an attempt to address the judge’s concerns.

 

There are no guarantees it will work, said Brian Nesvik, head of the wildlife division of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

A coalition of conservation groups argued three points in a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012. They said Wyoming’s plan did not ensure a viable population of wolves, that there was not enough genetic exchange with other populations and that the gray wolf is still endangered in some of its range.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote in her ruling that while wolves had recovered with sufficient genetic exchange, Wyoming’s plan to have a viable population was not binding.

“It’s just another page in the saga of this whole issue,” said Budd Betts, owner of Absaroka Ranch, a guest ranch and outfitting business near Dubois. “I thought this very well could have happened. This is going to be a recipe for an exploding population.”

At issue in the judge’s ruling is Wyoming’s promise to maintain more than the required 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside the national parks, said Nesvik.

Wyoming put an addendum in its management plan that it would maintain a buffer of wolves above the required number. It did not specify how many or make the buffer binding by law.

The emergency rule the state filed Wednesday changes that addendum and turns it into a regulation, Nesvik said.

“This is a formality is all it is,” he said. “Two-thirds of this decision affirmed the merits of Wyoming’s wolf management plan.”

Gov. Matt Mead signed the emergency rule Wednesday, he said.

Wyoming needs to do more than add a regulation to its plan resolving the buffer to assure wolves’ continued survival in the state, said Mike Senatore, vice president of conservation law and general counsel for Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit.

“What we hope Wyoming does is they go back and put in place a plan that will actually ensure the long-term recovery and survival of wolves in the state,” he said. “We continue to have major problems with the two-tiered status of wolves in the state.”

Wyoming has a hunting season on wolves in the northwest corner, but outside the area they can be shot on sight in what is called the predator zone. Senatore would like to see the predator zone eliminated or greatly restricted, he said.

Nesvik believes the plan Wyoming implemented is adequate to maintain the required number of wolves. Wyoming had at least 178 wolves and 15 breeding pairs in its trophy management area at the end of hunting season in 2013.

That number does not include wolves living in Yellowstone National Park, the Wind River Indian Reservation or the predator zone.

About 85 percent of the state’s wolf population is in the trophy management area. Nesvik did not have an estimate for the number of wolves in the rest of the state.

In 2012, 42 wolves were killed in the trophy area, and 25 were hunted in the rest of the state, according to Game and Fish. In 2013, 24 wolves were killed in the trophy area and 39 in the rest of the state. Hunters did not kill the quota of wolves allowed during either hunting season.

Wyoming’s attorney general will work with attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice to bring the case before the judge again.

In the meantime, no more wolf licenses will be sold. The department is working on a system to refund money to the hundreds of hunters who already purchased a 2014 license.

Victory for Wolves in Wyoming!

http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2014/victory-for-wolves-in-wyoming

Victory: Federal Judge Reinstates Federal Protections Statewide

copyrighted Hayden wolf in lodgepoles

September 23, 2014
Washington, D.C. —Federal protections for gray wolves in Wyoming were reinstated today after a judge invalidated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2012 statewide Endangered Species Act delisting of the species. The ruling from the U.S. District Court halts the management of wolves by Wyoming, a state with a history of hostile and extreme anti-wolf policies.

“The court has ruled and Wyoming’s kill-on-sight approach to wolf management throughout much of the state must stop,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “Today’s ruling restores much-needed federal protection to wolves throughout Wyoming, which allowed killing along the borders of Yellowstone National Park and throughout national forest lands south of Jackson Hole where wolves were treated as vermin under state management. If Wyoming wants to resume management of wolves, it must develop a legitimate conservation plan that ensures a vibrant wolf population in the Northern Rockies.”

Earthjustice represented Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity in challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service’s September 2012 decision to strip Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves in Wyoming. The conservation groups challenged the 2012 decision on grounds that Wyoming law authorized unlimited wolf killing in a “predator” zone that extended throughout most of the state, and provided inadequate protection for wolves even where killing was regulated.

“Today the court affirmed that delisting gray wolves in Wyoming by the Obama administration was premature and a violation of federal law,” said Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark. “Any state that has a wolf management plan that allows for unlimited wolf killing throughout most of the state should not be allowed to manage wolves. Wolves need to remain protected under the Endangered Species Act until the species is fully recovered. State laws and policies that treat wolves like vermin are as outdated and discredited today as they were a century ago.”

“The decision makes clear that ‘shoot-on-sight’ is not an acceptable management plan for wolves across the majority of the state,” said Dr. Sylvia Fallon, senior scientist and wildlife conservation director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s time for Wyoming to step back and develop a more science-based approach to managing wolves.”

“The court has rightly recognized the deep flaws in Wyoming’s wolf management plan. Wolves in Wyoming must have federal protection until the state gets it right. That means developing a science-based management plan that recognizes the many benefits wolves bring to the region instead of vermin that can be shot on sight in the majority of the state,” said Bonnie Rice of the Sierra Club’s Greater Yellowstone Our Wild America Campaign. 

“We’re thrilled that protections for Wyoming’s fragile population of wolves have been restored,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “With Wyoming allowing wolves to be shot on sight across more than 80 percent of the state, there is no way protections for wolves should have ever been removed.”

The 2012 delisting of wolves in Wyoming turned wolf management over to the state, which opened up over 80 percent of its land to unlimited wolf killing and provided weak protections for wolves in the remainder. Since the delisting, 219 wolves have been killed under Wyoming’s management. Prior to the 2012 reversal of its position, the Fish and Wildlife Service denied Wyoming the authority to manage wolves in the state due to its extremely hostile anti-wolf laws and policies.

Background: There were once up to 2 million gray wolves living in North America, but the animals were driven to near-extinction in the lower 48 states by the early 1900s. After passage of the federal Endangered Species Act in 1973 and protection of the wolf as endangered, federal recovery programs resulted in the rebound of wolf populations in limited parts of the country. Roughly 5,500 wolves currently live in the continental United States — a fraction of the species’ historic numbers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently proposing to remove Endangered Species Act protection for most gray wolves across the United States, a proposal that the groups strongly oppose; a final decision could be made later this year.