Wildlife conservation power has done it again and shoot wolves-on-site management for gray wolves in Wyoming was stopped in its own cross-hairs on Tuesday by a US District judge.
Historically, there were almost 2 million gray wolves, a valuable top predator that keeps ecosystems in balance, but over time they were decimated almost to extinction by hunting and trapping across the nation by the early 1900’s—until they were listed as endangered in 1973 under the Endangered Species Act.
However, based on flawed science, according to conservationists, the federal government began removing ESA protection for wolves in 2011 and turning over their management to state agencies.
The move has caused the slaughter of 2,800 wolves as of July, 2014.
Reportedly, gray wolves were officially delisted for ESA protection in 2012.
According to a report in the Spokesman-Review, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected a Wyoming wolf-management plan that offered little protection and essentially declared open season on wolves across most of the state.
Judge Jackson’s decision backed legal proceedings by a consortium of national environmental groups that referred to Wyoming as “a state with a history of hostile and extreme anti-wolf policies.”
Wildlife conservation groups represented by Earthjustice in challenging the 2012 US Fish and Wildlife decision to remove gray wolves from ESA protection included the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.
The last few years have seen an all-out effort by US Fish and Wildlife Service, endorsed by ranchers and special interest groups, who say wolves are a threat to their livestock and game animals—to keep gray wolves from ESA protection.
Nonetheless, Tuesday’s court decision puts a halt on killing gray wolves for now.
“The court has ruled and Wyoming’s kill-on-sight approach to wolf management throughout much of the state must stop,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “Today’s ruling restores much-needed federal protection to wolves throughout Wyoming, which allowed killing along the borders of Yellowstone National Park and throughout national forest lands south of Jackson Hole where wolves were treated as vermin under state management. If Wyoming wants to resume management of wolves, it must develop a legitimate conservation plan that ensures a vibrant wolf population in the northern Rockies.”
Responses from the conservation groups involved were included in the press release from Center for Biological Diverstiy:
“Today the court affirmed that delisting gray wolves in Wyoming by the Obama administration was premature and a violation of federal law,” said Defenders of Wildlife president and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark. “Any state that has a wolf-management plan that allows for unlimited wolf killing throughout most of the state should not be allowed to manage wolves. Wolves need to remain protected under the Endangered Species Act until the species is fully recovered. State laws and policies that treat wolves like vermin are as outdated and discredited today as they were a century ago.”
“The decision makes clear that ‘shoot-on-sight’ is not an acceptable management plan for wolves across the majority of the state,” said Dr. Sylvia Fallon, senior scientist and wildlife conservation director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s time for Wyoming to step back and develop a more science-based approach to managing wolves.”
“The court has rightly recognized the deep flaws in Wyoming’s wolf management plan. History has shown that sound, science-based management practices are at the heart of successful efforts to bring animals back from the brink of extinction. Sound management will ensure that we can continue to reap the benefits wolves bring to the region,” said Bonnie Rice of the Sierra Club’s Greater Yellowstone Our Wild America Campaign.
“We’re thrilled that protections for Wyoming’s fragile population of wolves have been restored,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “With Wyoming allowing wolves to be shot on sight across more than 80 percent of the state, there is no way protections for wolves should have ever been removed.”
The court’s decision wasn’t popular to landowners
Jim Magagna with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association disagreed with the judge’s ruling and claimed it would harm Wyoming ranchers if they weren’t able to kill wolves on their land to protect livestock.
Magagna said the Service was supposed to manage the population to maintain a minimum of wolves and claimed there was no evidence they weren’t meeting the commitment.
“I guess what bothers me most is this shows a total lack of confidence in the state’s ability to manage its wildlife, including a viable and delisted wolf population,” said Magagna.
Litigation on the hotly contested management of the state’s gray wolves could likely continue in the courts for years.
For links to legal documents click here.
***Delilah Jean William is an environmental journalist, political junkie and Artistic Director for Keystone Prairie Dog; keystone-prairie-dogs.com, which is a fundraising website to support environmental groups for extraordinary efforts to protect Great Plains habitat and prairie dogs in the wild. The goal is to use humorous images, social commentary and serious-minded reports to challenge government on numerous levels, including accountability to the people, the environment and Earth’s natural resources.