LIVINGSTON, Mont. (August 6, 2010) -- Wolves in the Northern Rockies scored a big victory Thursday when a federal judge ruled that the Obama administration’s decision to remove the animals from the federal endangered species list was illegal. The decision effectively ends plans for expanded wolf hunts that would have begun as early as next month in Montana and Idaho. When Northern Rockies wolves were delisted in April 2009, wolves retained endangered species protections in Wyoming, which was the crux of the issue for the judge, who noted that conditions for delisting must be present for the entire wolf population, not just certain states.
"People on both sides of the wolf issue should look at Judge Molloy's ruling as an opportunity to hit the reset button and develop a legitimate recovery plan for Northern Rockies wolves," said Matt Skoglund, a wildlife advocate in NRDC’s Livingston, Montana, office. “We're thrilled with today's ruling, but now it's really time to update the recovery standards and come up with a plan that ensures the recovery of wolves in the Northern Rockies over the long term.”
NRDC and 13 other conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, sued the federal government last June for removing wolves from the endangered species list before their population was fully recovered. In yesterday’s Order, federal District Judge Donald Molloy held that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service acted illegally when it removed wolves from the endangered species list in Idaho and Montana, but left them on the list in Wyoming, splitting the population along political, rather than biological, lines, noting: “The Endangered Species Act does not allow the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list only part of a ‘species’ as endangered.”
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“The Judge ruled on the law, not the politics,” said Andrew Wetzler, Co-Director of NRDC’s Lands and Wildlife Program. “We're close to full wolf recovery in the region, but we're not there yet. To really address the issue on the ground, we have to redouble our efforts to manage conflicts with wolves using nonlethal means that work for people and wolves.”
Tens of thousands of gray wolves once roamed North America before being slaughtered and eliminated from most of the entire lower-48 states by the 1930s. The gray wolf was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1974.
The reintroduction of wolves to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and central Idaho 15 years ago has been widely hailed as a major conservation success story. It has restored ecological balance to many places in the Northern Rockies and benefited songbird, pronghorn and other wildlife 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.
More wolf commentary available on NRDC’s Switchboard blog.