Two coalitions of environmental groups in the U.S. filed notice September 10 in federal court in Washington that they intend to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency’s decision to end federal protections for wolves in Wyoming.
The groups oppose the state’s classification of the estimated 350 wolves within its borders as “predatory animals” that can be shot on sight in more than 80 percent of state when federal protections end Oct. 1.
Wyoming has also scheduled a regulated trophy wolf hunt in the remainder of the state, an area around the eastern and southern borders of Yellowstone National Park, starting next month.
Wyoming’s action is one of the latest salvos against wolves, which have slowly lost their protected status in the Rockies and Great Lakes regions over the past four and a half years after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared them “recovered”—a contention disputed by most conservation groups.
Since that time environmental, conservation and wildlife groups have filed a series of lawsuits to protect the wolf. As a result the wolves in these regions have regained and re-lost their protected status at least a half dozen times since March 2008. In the interim several hundred wolves have lost their lives while political forces worked to remove their protected status once and for all, which is pretty much where they stand today.
The groups involved include: Earthjustice, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Conservation Congress, Friends of Animals, Friends of the Clearwater, National Wolfwatcher Coalition, and Western Watersheds Project.
Wyoming’s current wolf management plan is similar to an earlier version that the federal agency repudiated after initially accepting it a few years ago. The groups claim the federal government is stopping wolf management for political reasons, not because the current plan is any better than the last one.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, both strongly tied to the ranching industry in which they grew up, have worked closely together since Mead took office last year on an agreement to end federal wolf protections. The federal government already has turned over wolf management in Idaho and Montana to those states and both have held wolf hunts.
The chance to legally shoot a wolf is apparently irresistible to hard core hunters, and states; eager to collect fees for hunting licenses. In Minnesota, more than 23,000 hunters from 33 states have applied for the 6,000 permits to shoot gray wolves that the state will issue for its fall hunting season, set to start November 3.
A spokesman for the state’s Department of Nature Resources told the Associated Press that only a few hundred of the 23,477 requests were filed by Minnesotans. The licenses, to be issued by lottery on October 14, will cost $30 for Minnesota residents and $250 for out-of-state hunters.
Minnesota has set a limit of 400 wolves that can be killed this season. The state has an estimated wolf population of 3,000 animals, the highest number in the U.S. outside of Alaska, where the species has never been protected.
To keep up on this constantly changing situation, the Defenders of Wildlife blog runs a weekly wolf news wrap-up for all things related to this species.