LIVINGSTON, Mont. (April 1, 2009) -- The long fight over wolves in the Northern Rockies continued today when the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and a coalition of concerned conservation groups announced a legal challenge to the recent US Fish and Wildlife Service decision to remove wolves from the federal Endangered Species list. NRDC has long-advocated for a national wolf plan with recovery goals based on the most current science, which would point to the need for a larger population of animals with the opportunity for natural genetic interchange; benchmarks likely unattainable under the states’ wolf management plans.
“Last time the Service removed legal protections, there was an all out war on wolves in the weeks that followed,” said Louisa Willcox, Director of the NRDC’s office in Livingston, Mont. “We are so incredibly close to fulfilling the conditions necessary to declare the wolves’ comeback as complete, but this move threatens to undo what should be an incredible conservation success story.”
When the Bush Administration removed protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies last year, it resulted in the death of over 100 wolves. The State of Idaho recently proposed killing 120 in one area, the Clearwater, and has its sites on killing an additional 26 packs in the state.
Due to inadequacy of the State of Wyoming’s management plan, wolves will retain legal protections within that state while becoming subject to hunts in Idaho and Montana. This move is in clear opposition to previously long-standing Department of Interior policy, which found that wolves in the Northern Rockies constitute a single population and could not be broken up on a state-by-state basis. Documents stating this had been available on the Department’s Web site, including this 2004 letter to the State of Wyoming and a 2003 Fish and Wildlife Service memo on wolves, stating, “We cannot use a boundary between states to subdivide a single biological population in an effort to artificially create a discrete population.”
"State borders don’t mean much to wolves --- they don’t know Wyoming from West Virginia," said Dr. Sylvia Fallon, NRDC Staff Scientist whose genetic expertise was central in the federal court challenge environmentalists won against the previous effort to remove wolf protections. “We agree that Wyoming’s plan is inadequate, but you cannot have protections start and stop at state lines, particularly when genetic interchange between the packs is essential for the wolf’s long-term survival. It undermines the needs of both wolves and the people who live in the region.
The coalition will give the Department of Interior 60-day notice of the suit tomorrow, when the rule is officially published (it is available today online). The suit will be 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, Wildlands Project, and Hell’s Canyon Preservation Council.
“Secretary Salazar and the Department of Interior have pushed through a policy that sidesteps the law as well as the needs of both wolves and the people who live in the region,” said Andrew Wetzler, Director of NRDC’s Endangered Species Project. “A real solution is going to require a national plan that sets recovery goals based on the latest science and ensures natural genetic interchange for the packs in the region. Anything else is likely to fall short of what is required by the law and just gets in the way of a long-term solution for all the parties involved. Let’s get this thing fixed.”
Tens of thousands of 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. Disease has taken a further toll on the packs in and around Yellowstone National Park shrinking the park population by 27% and slowing the broader region’s population growth in 2008, offering further proof of the wolves’ vulnerable status in the region.
The reintroduction of wolves by the federal government has measurably improved the natural balance in the Northern Rockies and benefited streamside habitats and riparian forests, as well as pronghorn antelope bird, rodent, 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.
The rule can be viewed online at http://www.federalregister.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2009-05991_PI.pdf
Check the Switchboard blog later today for commentary from NRDC’s science and legal teams at http://switchboard.nrdc.org/
Broadcast quality wolf video is available to members of the media at http://nrdc.mediaseed.tv/