by Sam Reynolds
DENVER (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service knows that gray wolves “will be exterminated” in a great part of Wyoming if it allows the state to “manage” the animals, but Fish & Wildlife is doing it anyway, eight environmental groups claim in Federal Court.
WildEarth Guardians et al. claim the Fish and Wildlife Service will violate federal law if it allows Wyoming to proceed with a plan to partition the state into “two zones: one in which wolves will be permitted to survive, and the other, vastly larger, in which FWS acknowledges wolves will be exterminated.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service announced in August that the gray wolf would lose its status as an endangered species, leaving the state to manage its own population of wolves.
“The best scientific and commercial data available indicate that gray wolves (Canis lupus) in Wyoming are recovered and are no longer in need of protection as part of an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act,” Fish & Wildlife said at the time.
If Wyoming is allowed to manage the wolves, the environmentalist say, “wolves will be eliminated from approximately 85 percent of the state – even though FWS previously stated that Wyoming comprised a significant portion of the [gray wolf’s] range.”
According to the complaint: “Wyoming’s wolf-management plan contains numerous deficiencies, each of which on its own would be sufficient to violate the law, but which when taken together sum to a situation which will be damaging not only to the survival of the wolf, but to the entire ecosystem in which it plays a ‘keystone’ role. FWS’s decision to delist the wolf in Wyoming requires the State to do only one thing: maintain a minimum wolf population of 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs. No credible scientist has ever opined that this population level is equal to wolf recovery within the meaning of the ESA.”
The environmentalists say Wyoming’s wolf management regulations are deficient in many ways: “Wyoming’s regulations provide for the killing of wolves under a defense of property provision, which allows the killing of wolves even if they are baited into attacking livestock or pets. Wyoming’s regulations also fail to require management to minimize the damage to the Yellowstone wolf population that will result from the killing of Yellowstone wolves that travel outside the Park – and which is already occurring.”
The groups say that seven “collared Yellowstone wolves” have been killed by hunters this season alone, out of an estimated 98 living in the park.
The environmentalists depict a bleak future without federal protection for the species, which could be subjected to “unlimited killing by a full array of aggressive techniques. For example, traps and snares may be used. Other methods that may be used on wolves in the predator area include harassing, pursuing, hunting, shooting, or killing wolves from aircraft, street-legal vehicles, off-road-vehicles, motorcycles, or snowmobiles.”
Also: “Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials have stated at public meetings in Wyoming that baiting techniques such as staking out a dog or leaving sheep carcasses in an area of known wolf presence would be lawful for the express purpose of drawing in wolves to be killed.”
The conservationists say the wolf’s protected status saved it from “near total elimination” in 1973, with the Northern Rockies population of gray wolves eventually rising to 1,744 animals by 2011.
The environmentalists say a modest recovery has taken place, but, “The best available science … estimates that a connected population of 2,000 to 5,000 wolves is necessary to ensure a genetically viable Northern Rockies wolf population over the long term. Further, the current wolf population must expand geographically to achieve necessary connectivity and genetic exchange between the three core recovery areas (northwest Montana, central Idaho, and the Yellowstone area).”
They say that isolated populations are “not sustainable.”
“FWS has acknowledged that small, isolated populations of 100 to 150 wolves, such as those contemplated under its delisting rule, are not sustainable. However, in the delisting rule, FWS continually predicts that a larger wolf population will continue to exist, to avoid discussing the problems of small, isolated populations, and despite the fact that no legal mechanisms actually exist to prevent the states from managing for the minimum population levels FWS’s rule allows.
“Because FWS arbitrarily determined that wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS are not threatened by their small population size, its 2012 delisting rule is arbitrarily capricious, [an] abuse of discretion, and otherwise contrary to the ESA.”
The groups seek declaratory judgment that Fish & Wildlife violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, and want its delisting of the species set aside.
They are represented by James Tutchton with WildEarth Guardians in Centennial, Colo.
Plaintiffs include the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, the Conservation Congress, Friends of Animals, Friends of the Clearwater, the National Wolfwatcher Coalition, and the Western Watersheds Project.