LIVINGSTON, Mont. (January 24, 2008) – Conservation groups say they will file a lawsuit in federal court immediately to block a rule announced today by the Bush administration that will allow the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to kill most of the threatened wolves in the Northern Rockies. The new “10(j)” rule widens a loophole in the Endangered Species Act that permits the killing of hundreds of wolves even though the animals are considered at risk of extinction.
“The Bush administration is giving a blank check to the states to slaughter wolves for doing what they need to do to make a living – which is eating deer and elk,” said the NRDC’s Louisa Willcox. “The government spent millions of dollars to reintroduce wolves to the wild in the Northern Rockies, and now it wants to spend millions more to kill them. That’s crazy.”
The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service announced today it will publish the rule in the Federal Register on January 28. The rule allows states to kill wolves that they believe are adversely affecting on elk. But elk numbers in the region are at an all-time high. Despite this fact, the states of Wyoming and Idaho have made it clear that they intend to manage wolves at the minimum allowable level, leaving alive as few as 600 of the 1,500 wolves now living in the region. According to the rule, aerial gunning and shooting from the ground will be used to kill wolves.
The rule precedes an expected decision to remove wolves from the endangered species list next month. After that happens, wolf numbers could be reduced to as few as 300.
“I’m prepared to bid for the first ticket to shoot a wolf myself,” said Idaho Gov. Butch Otter at a press conference at the state Capitol in Boise on January 11, 2007.
Wyoming officials say they ultimately aim to kill two-thirds of the approximately 300 wolves on state land according to an article published in the Billings Gazette on June 11, 2007, leaving about 100 animals alive – the minimum number allowed by federal law.
The reintroduction of wolves by the federal government 12 years ago has been widely hailed as a major success story. It has measurably improved the natural balance in the Northern Rockies and benefited bird, antelope and elk populations, according to NRDC. Many thousands of visitors flock to Yellowstone National Park each year to see and hear wolves in the wild, contributing at least $35 million to the local economy each year, the group said.
“Wolves are one of the main attractions for visitors at Yellowstone National Park. People are amazed and awed when they see them,” said Willcox. “Their recovery after more than a century of extermination is nothing short of miraculous. Turning back the clock would be a huge mistake.”
Conservation groups oppose the revised 10(j) wolf killing rule and the decision to delist wolves because the wolves’ numbers, genetic diversity and geographic spread have not increased enough to ensure their long-term survival. But the loophole announced today allows the slaughter to begin even before the wolves are formally delisted. It also will allow the state and federal governments to continue killing wolves if conservation groups are successful in slowing or stopping delisting through litigation.
In revising the 10(j) rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service says it needs to make killing wolves easier to protect big game from wolf predation. However, current rules already allow wolves to be killed if the states can show that they are the “primary” cause of elk, moose and deer depletion. The new rule allows wolves to be killed anywhere big game herds are considered below desired management levels, even though studies show that elk populations are particularly high and not in jeopardy.
Thousands of gray wolves roamed the Rocky Mountains before being slaughtered and eliminated in most of the West by the 1930’s. The gray wolf was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Reintroduction efforts placed 66 wolves in Yellowstone National Park and part of Idaho in 1995-96. As many as 1,500 wolves now live in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
“The federal government is giving the states a license to kill under almost any circumstance,” said Willcox. “It’s going to be open season on wolves.”