by Ben Neary, Associated Press
CHEYENNE, Wyo.—A second coalition of environmental groups has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claiming it violated the Endangered Species Act by ending federal protections for wolves in Wyoming this fall. The eight groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Denver. They say Wyoming’s management plan classifying wolves as predators that can be shot on sight in most of the state is inadequate.
As of early this week, more than 50 wolves have been killed in Wyoming since the state took over their management Oct. 1. Of that number, Wyoming hunters have killed a few dozen wolves in a designated trophy hunting zone outside Yellowstone National Park, while most of the rest have been killed in other areas of the state where wolves are unprotected.
“The current hunting regulations and wolf management policy in Wyoming that basically leaves wolves vulnerable in 85 percent of the state year-round, I think are almost a dereliction of duty, or a form of negligence on the part of the state in terms of wolf management,” said Duane Short, wild species program director at the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance in Laramie.
The groups that filed Tuesday’s lawsuit are Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Conservation Congress, Friends of Animals, Friends of the Clearwater, National Wolfwatcher Coalition, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians.
Steve Segin, spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Colorado, said Tuesday the agency had no comment on pending litigation.
Wyoming has committed to maintaining at least 10 breeding pairs of wolves and at least 100 individual animals outside of Yellowstone and the Wind River Indian Reservation, in the central part of the state. Wildlife managers estimated there were roughly 300 wolves outside of Yellowstone, where no hunting is allowed, when the state took over.
Wolves were largely killed off in the West by early last century. The federal government reintroduced wolves to Yellowstone in the mid-1990s. Wyoming has fought for years to gain management of the wolves, which some hunters and ranchers in the state believe take an unacceptable toll on other game and livestock.
Montana and Idaho gained control of their own wolf populations earlier than Wyoming, and both have allowed hunting. Although Congress has acted to bar lawsuits challenging wolf delisting in Montana and Idaho, it hasn’t granted Wyoming similar protection.
Tuesday’s lawsuit follows a federal suit filed by another coalition earlier this month in Washington, D.C. Both suits seek to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to rescind its transfer of wolf management authority to Wyoming and protect them again under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Both lawsuits also generally charge that Wyoming’s approach to wolf management won’t allow wolves to expand their numbers substantially beyond the borders of Yellowstone, where hunting is prohibited. The groups maintain that the Wyoming wolves won’t be free to mingle with other wolf populations, making their prospects for long term survival dim.
“After delisting, the wolf population will no longer be growing and will likely be reduced to a lower level,” the lawsuit filed Tuesday claims. “State management will also likely result in higher mortality rates for both dispersing wolves and resident wolves.”
The federal government has sought to have the first lawsuit filed in Washington, D.C., this month moved to Wyoming. In papers filed last week, lawyers for Fish and Wildlife Service say a Wyoming court would be more appropriate in hearing the case.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has said he’s confident the state’s plan offers adequate protection for wolves. He has emphasized that after pushing for years to get state control of wolves, the state has no interest in seeing the population fall low enough to trigger a return to federal control.
Renny MacKay, spokesman for Mead, said Tuesday the governor believes both lawsuits challenging wolf delisting should be filed in Wyoming.
“This lawsuit really is about Wyoming and what happens in Wyoming and the lawsuit, the arguments and the decision should take place in Wyoming, not in Washington, D.C., or Denver, Colo.,” MacKay said Tuesday.