LIVINGSTON, Mont. (April 28, 2008) – Citing the recent rash of wolf killings in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, conservation groups asked a federal court today to reinstate Endangered Species Act protections, while considering arguments that delisting the wolf was unlawful. The request for a court order to stop the killing was filed with a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s wolf delisting decision.
According to an Associated Press article, at least 37 wolves have been killed in the three states since the delisting took effect on March 28. The death toll could be even higher since kills are not required to be reported immediately, and ‘shoot and bury’ tactics mean that some kills might not be reported at all.
“Until now the reintroduction of gray wolves to the Northern Rockies was one of our greatest endangered species success stories,” said Louisa Willcox, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) office in Livingston, Mont. “Now the region has become a killing field for wolves, just as we predicted.
“Dozens of wolves have been killed already, and more are certain to die under state laws that in many cases allow unregulated wolf killing anywhere, anytime, for any reason,” Willcox said.
In their request for a preliminary injunction reinstating Endangered Species Act protections, NRDC and 11 other groups argued that “the killing of wolves that have been removed unlawfully from the endangered species list is sufficient to demonstrate irreparable harm.”
“The killing must stop while the court considers the government’s illegal decision to revoke protections in the first place,” Willcox said. “The gray wolf simply hasn’t recovered yet. Every animal that falls victim to bait or bullet increases the odds that wolves will slide back toward extinction.”
Some of the first wolves to be killed since the delisting took effect include:
- Wolf 253M – This eight-year-old celebrity wolf’s fans called him “Hoppy” because of his limp (caused by an injury from a fight with another wolf pack). He was shot the day after delisting on an elk feeding ground in Wyoming. This black wolf was one of the most recognizable members of Yellowstone’s famous Druid Peak pack. People snapped his photograph and shot video as he and his pack mates played, hunted and snoozed. Later, he became the first wolf to step foot into Utah in over 75 years and established his own pack in Grand Teton National Park.
- The Ashton wolves – These two males were killed on April 1 near Ashton, Idaho. The first was shot within view of the shooter's home near some horses. The second was pursued by the landowner for over a mile on snowmobile. Authorities declined to press charges against the shooter due to “reasonable doubt” as to whether the wolves were “molesting” livestock.
- Wolf B160 – This collared wolf was found shot on April 3 near Clayton, Idaho. His body was still warm when a woman found him about 70 yards from Highway 75. He had been shot through the femur and stomach. (Photos of Wolf B160’s carcass are available on NRDC’s digital newsroom at http://nrdc.mediaseed.tv/).
In their challenge to wolf delisting, the groups alleged multiple violations of the Endangered Species Act. They said the death toll confirms arguments that the delisting decision threatens wolf survival. They also said the delisting decision was based on outdated science.
“We understand wolf biology, behavior and genetics much better than when the original wolf recovery goal was developed more than 20 years ago,” said Dr. Sylvia Fallon, a scientist with NRDC. “The federal government has simply ignored all the scientific advances in this area for two decades. This is no way to manage our important wildlife resources.”
The lawsuit says scientists have determined wolf populations are still too fragmented and a minimum population of 2,000 to 5,000 animals is needed to ensure enough genetic diversity for the animals’ long-term survival. At the time of delisting there were about 1,500 wolves in the region. All but 300 could be allowed to be killed under the government’s current minimum recovery standard.
NRDC filed a petition in February requesting that the Fish and Wildlife Service establish legitimate targets for recovery of wolves throughout the lower 48 states. In its petition, NRDC demonstrates that the service failed to recover wolves on much of the available public lands where wolves formerly lived, and ignored decades of scientific analysis. Without explanation or any scientific basis, the service set widely different recovery goals in the Midwest, Northern Rockies and Southwest regions.
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.
Thousands of gray wolves roamed the Rocky Mountains before being slaughtered and eliminated from 95 percent of the lower 48 states by the 1930s. 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.
The lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of NRDC, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Western Watersheds Project, and Wildlands Project.