LIVINGSTON, Mont. (September 17, 2008) –The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will withdraw its decision to remove endangered species protections from the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies, according to press reports. Federal protections of wolves will continue for wolves in Yellowstone, Central Idaho and Glacier ecosystems. This development comes on the heels of a federal judge’s decision on a suit brought by NRDC and 11 other conservation groups that blocked the delisting decision. Recently the Department of Interior has been roundly criticized over proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act.
“More than 100 wolves were needlessly killed as a result of the government’s ill-fated delisting effort—and hundreds more would have been shot this fall if federal protections had not been restored,” said Louisa Willcox of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “One of the Endangered Species Act’s greatest success stories would quickly be undone if the killing had continued, And that death toll confirms the need for wolves to retain federal protection until their populations increase and state agencies can demonstrate that they are capable of managing wolf populations responsibly.”
With the initial delisting in February, temporary control of wolves moved to state management plans in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Wolf hunts began immediately in Wyoming’s “predator zone,” where wolves were allowed to be shot on sight. All three states authorized wolf hunts which were slated to begin this fall.
Conservation groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in late April, arguing that the government’s decision to delist the wolves was illegal, and that the population was too small and vulnerable to be healthy in the long-term. They also argued that to maintain genetic diversity, wolves needed to be able to move between breeding groups among the Yellowstone, Central Idaho and Glacier populations. The groups successfully requested the federal court to reinstate Endangered Species Act protections, while considering arguments that delisting the wolf was unlawful.
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.
“This is likely a temporary victory,” said Andrew Wetzler, Director of NRDC’s Endangered Species Project. “The states will learn their lessons from this experience and mount another delisting effort down the line. But the continued recovery and federal protection for the wolf is still a big win for the Endangered Species Act. It shows that the Endangered Species Act works.”
Tens of thousands gray wolves once roamed North America before being slaughtered and eliminated from 95 percent of their habitat in lower 48 states in the 1930s. The gray wolf was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1973.
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. 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, according to some studies.