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Lawsuit challenges end to federal monitoring for northern rocky grey wolves

Aggressive State-sanctioned Hunting, Trapping Should Trigger Ongoing Federal Oversight of Idaho, Montana Wolves

VICTOR, Idaho— The Center for Biological Diversity and four other conservation organizations today filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend the federal monitoring period for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. The existing monitoring program, which is required by the Endangered Species Act after protections are removed for a species, is set to expire in May. Ongoing monitoring is crucial in the face of aggressive state-sanctioned hunting and trapping that researchers say is putting northern Rockies wolf populations at renewed risk.

When Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves were removed in 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service said that the required post-delisting monitoring period would be extended for an additional five years if any one of three criteria were met. One criterion requires an extension if a significant change in state law or management significantly increases threats to the wolf population. While the Service anticipated that wolves would be subjected to some hunting and trapping following delisting, the agency did not anticipate the more aggressive tactics taken by the states, including aerial gunning of wolves in remote areas, hiring professionals to kill wolves in federally designated wilderness, and legislation in Idaho requiring use of significant amounts of state funding to kill wolves.

“Gunning down wolves in remote areas of federal public lands that were meant to be core refugia for northern Rocky wolves represents one of several significant changes in state management that should trigger extension of the federal monitoring period,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wolves in the northern Rockies need federal oversight now more than ever.”

Researchers have determined that wolves in the northern Rockies are at risk of severe population declines. A study in the journal Science, released in December 2015, found the Fish and Wildlife Service and states of Montana and Idaho have underestimated the impacts and risks of aggressive hunting policies for gray wolves instituted since protections were lifted. Hunters and trappers have killed more than 2,300 wolves in the two states since federal safeguards were first stripped in 2009.

“It’s too soon to stop federal monitoring of the wolf population, given the hostile politics and anti-science policies of the states’ game and fish departments,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “These animals still need to be protected from those who want our public lands made into feedlots for livestock operations and game farms for hunters.”

“The aerial gunning of wolves in the Clearwater Basin at the behest of Idaho Fish and Game demonstrates the necessity of continued monitoring by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater. “This region consists of large wild areas where wolves should be allowed to play their ecological role.”

“Extending the federal monitoring period for wolves in the northern Rockies is the right thing to do scientifically, and ethically, to ensure that wolves are not once again hunted and trapped to the brink of extinction,” said Matthew Koehler, director of the Montana-based WildWest Institute. “As a backcountry elk hunter I find many aspect of state management of wolves in Montana and Idaho appalling and unethical.”

In January 2015 the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Friends of the Clearwater, Cascadia Wildlands and WildWest Institute filed a petition requesting that the Fish and Wildlife Service continue monitoring northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves for an additional five years. The agency has acknowledged receipt of the petition but has not yet provided a substantive response. This notice of intent to sue represents the next step in ensuring the agency does not prematurely end federal oversight of these wolves.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Cascadia Wildlands educates, agitates, and inspires a movement to protect and restore Cascadia’s wild ecosystems. We envision vast old-growth forests, rivers full of wild salmon, wolves howling in the backcountry, and vibrant communities sustained by the unique landscapes of the Cascadia bioregion.

Friends of the Clearwater is an Idaho-based nonprofit conservation organization that works to protect the wildness and biodiversity of the public wildlands, wildlife, and waters of Idaho’s Clearwater Basin.

Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit conservation group with a mission to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives, and legal advocacy.

The WildWest Institute’s mission is to protect and restore forests, wildlands, watersheds and wildlife in the Northern Rockies.

 Read the news release announcing the filing of the petition.