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News Release 1/17/09


January 17, 2009

Bush Administration Moves One Last Time Against Wolves

Conservation Groups Will Challenge Federal Wolf Delisting…Again

Washington, D.C. – On Wednesday, January 14, the Bush administration announced its decision to eliminate Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains outside Wyoming.  This is the second time in nine months that the Bush administration has removed federal protections from wolves.  Conservation groups represented by Earthjustice successfully sued to reinstate wolves to the endangered species list in July.  Just a few months after this federal court ruling discredited the prior delisting effort, the Bush administration moved to abandon wolves to the mercy of the northern Rockies states.

Gray wolves will remain under federal control in Wyoming because the court ruled that Wyoming’s hostile wolf management scheme leaves wolves in “serious jeopardy.”  Conservation groups argue that segregating the northern Rockies wolf population is illegal, noting that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has repeatedly said that a state-by-state approach to delisting was not permitted under the Endangered Species Act.

The Bush administration’s rush to lift wolf protections follows significant wolf population losses during 2008.  Yellowstone Park wolves suffered one of their largest declines, and the overall northern Rockies wolf population may have dropped for the first time since reintroduction.  Independent scientists say that wolves need to number between 2000 and 3000 individuals to maintain a sustainable, fully-recovered population.  After delisting, the USFWS recovery rule and state management plans may allow the northern Rockies wolf population to decline to only 300 to 450 wolves.

Not only Wyoming but also Idaho and Montana have refused to make enforceable commitments to maintaining viable wolf populations within their borders.  On the same day that the first delisting took effect in March, 2008, Idaho Governor Butch Otter signed a new law allowing Idaho citizens to kill wolves without a permit whenever wolves annoy, disturb, or “worry” livestock or domestic animals.  The Idaho Fish and Game Commission established hunting regulations that would have allowed 428 wolves to be killed in 2008 alone. Montana also planned a fall public wolf hunt.

Real wolf recovery in the region is within reach.  But without ESA protections, excessive wolf killing under inadequate state laws will turn a potential conservation success story into just another casualty of the Bush administration’s failed natural resource policies.

On Thursday, fourteen conservation organizations announced that they will again ask a federal court to reinstate ESA protections for northern Rockies gray wolves until wolf numbers are stronger and the states pledge to responsibly manage wolves.  In this lawsuit, Earthjustice represents Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, 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 Hells Canyon Preservation Council.


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Gary Macfarlane, Ecosystem Defense Director for Friends of the Clearwater:  “This is a cynical move on the part of the Fish and Wildlife Service after recently agreeing that its plan to delist wolves was flawed.  Idaho’s wolf management plan is inadequate, as it doesn’t allow wolves to play their ecological role in Idaho wildlands.”

Jenny Harbine, Attorney with Earthjustice:  “For three decades, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service consistently maintained that wolf recovery could only be declared if Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana all did their part.  Now, on their way out the door, the Bush administration has reversed course and said that partial recovery is sufficient.  ‘Good enough for government work’ is not good enough for wolves.”

Suzanne Asha Stone, Defenders of Wildlife representative for the Northern Rockies:  “Ramming through a flawed plan that has already been rejected by the courts doesn’t make any sense.  The bottom line is that wolves are a wildlife resource and an important part of our natural resources heritage.  Wolves should be managed to maintain sustainable, healthy populations, the way we manage mountain lions, bears, and other wildlife.  The states should not be allowed to kill two thirds of our regional wolf population just because wolves lose federal protection.”

Andrew Wetzler, Director of Natural Resources Defense Council’s Endangered Species Project:  “This move is not viable legally, politically, or biologically.  The Fish and Wildlife Service has actually come up with a strategy that will anger everyone from ranchers and state officials to conservationists.  This simply gets in the way of finding a real solution.”

Sierra Club representative Melanie Stein:  “This is an attempt to circumvent the protection needed for wolves throughout this region.  Removing federal protections for wolves will leave them at the mercy of aggressive state plans that treat wolves as pests rather than a valuable wildlife resource.  Releasing yet another flawed delisting rule is simply a last ditch attempt to remove protections for wolves before the Bush administration leaves office.”

Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity:  “This rule ignores the wise protections of the Endangered Species Act, will result in the deaths of over a thousand wolves, and will unravel the natural balance these wolves have maintained.”

Steve Pedery, Conservation Director with Oregon Wild:  “With just six days left in office and only a few months after a judge told them to reconsider, the Bush administration once again has America’s gray wolves in their crosshairs.  They just don’t get it.  Instead of using good science and working to protect America’s wildlife heritage, they are seeking to appease special interests by pursuing a scheme that is illegal and wastes taxpayer dollars.”