2009: The Year in Wolves

2009 was a dismal, tragic year for Northern Rockies wolves. They lost all protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), were hunted for the first time in Montana and Idaho (and continue to be hunted in Idaho), and were killed by various causes in record numbers. In all, almost one third -- one third! -- of the Northern Rockies wolf population was killed in 2009.

The good news is that NRDC and other conservation groups have not relented one iota in our fight on behalf on Northern Rockies wolves, and our lawsuit to restore their ESA protections should be ruled upon in 2010.

Here is a recap of 2009 for Canis lupus in the Northern Rockies:

January 14, 2009: Dubya the Decider, wishing to go out with a bang, announced that wolves in Montana and Idaho were being removed from the endangered species list, but wolves in Wyoming would remain listed.

January 20, 2009: Freshly inaugurated President Obama put on hold the wolf delisting rule -- and all other last-minute rules and regulations issued by the Bush administration -- for further review. Hope was restored, as many assumed the Obama Administration, with its pledged commitment to science, would scrap the premature, scientifically baseless, politically motivated Bush rule on wolves.

March 6, 2009: Hope was crushed, as Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced he was rubber-stamping the Bush rule on wolves and removing ESA protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho, but not Wyoming. (Six months later, a federal judge found that this decision was politically crafted and thus likely illegal.)

May 4, 2009: The delisting rule went into effect, and wolves in Montana and Idaho lost all federal protections under the Endangered Species Act.

June 2, 2009: NRDC and twelve other conservation organizations, represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit to restore ESA protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho.

July 8, 2009: The State of Montana approved the state's first-ever fair-chase public wolf hunt with a kill quota of 75 wolves -- or about 15% of its population.

August 17, 2009: Montana's neighbor to the west, Idaho, authorized its first-ever fair-chase public wolf hunt with a kill quota of 255 wolves -- or about 30% of its population. (And neither Montana's nor Idaho's quota included any of the wolves killed by government "control" actions, natural mortality, or illegal poaching.)

August 20, 2009: NRDC and the other conservation groups in the delisting lawsuit filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the planned wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho from proceeding.

September 1, 2009: Idaho's premature wolf hunt opened.

September 8, 2009: U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy denied our motion to stop the wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho, but, on a very bright note, he found that we are likely to win our delisting lawsuit. Specifically, he concluded, "The [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] Service has distinguished a natural population of wolves based on a political line, not the best available science. That, by definition, seems arbitrary and capricious."

September 15, 2009: Montana's poorly planned wolf hunt opened only in the backcountry, with the rest of the state scheduled to open on October 25th. The result? Multiple wilderness wolves and wolves from Yellowstone National Park were quickly killed, which the state must have seen coming with the way it structured the hunt.

October 13, 2009: With too many wolves from Yellowstone killed just outside the Park's boundary (because Montana failed to implement a buffer zone around the Park to protect its famous and important wolves), Montana shut down the wolf hunt north of Yellowstone.

November 16, 2009: Montana's wolf hunt ends, with 72 wolves killed in the hunt.

December 2009: Two ominous reports about wolves in the Northern Rockies surfaced. The first described how Yellowstone's wolf population is shrinking and the annual census of the Park's population is expected to be the lowest in 10 years. The second broke the worrying news that a record number of Northern Rockies wolves -- more than 500 -- have been killed in 2009 by hunters, government agents, ranchers, poachers, and natural causes. This astronomical level of mortality amounts to almost one third of the last official population estimate.

December 24, 2009: Lynne Stone, a fearless wolf advocate in Idaho, received a scary, threatening e-mail from a wolf hater there. The e-mail simply said, "Merry Cristmas" (spelled without the "h"), and it included a morbid photo:

Heading into 2010, this disturbing photo and sinister e-mail (sent the night of Christmas Eve) remind us of what wolves are up against in the West -- and why NRDC's work on behalf of Northern Rockies wolves is more important than ever.

On January 28, 2010, the last brief in our wolf lawsuit will be filed. Following a hearing in federal court, Judge Molloy will decide whether the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act when it removed ESA protections from wolves in Montana and Idaho earlier this year. Hopefully he concludes that the ESA was violated and restores ESA protections for those states' wolves.

After a deadly 2009, let's hope 2010 is a better year for wolves in the Northern Rockies -- with less killing, less spinning of the facts by government bureaucrats, and less politically driven decision-making. Let's hope wolves . . . can be wolves.

Happy New Year. Howl.

About the Authors

Matt Skoglund

Director, Northern Rockies office

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