delisting wolves in Idaho, Montana
-- A rule to lift federal Endangered
Species Act protections from gray wolves
in most of Idaho and Montana but not
Wyoming could be made public by winter,
state and federal officials say.
The ruling would help clear the way for
controlled hunts of the predators that
have thrived in the northern Rocky
Mountains since their 1995
Wyoming, unlike Montana and Idaho,
hasn't won approval for its management
plan. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
doesn't agree its plan is adequate to
keep wolves from going extinct again.
Under the ESA, all three states normally
would have to have such plans, before
protections are lifted.
there's concern Wyoming's plan will be
tied up in court for years.
As a result, the U.S. Interior
Department, led by Secretary Dirk
Kempthorne, is "seriously considering"
alternatives suggested last year by
Kempthorne while he was Idaho governor,
and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, "that
would reward states that are doing good
jobs at management and have plans in
place," said Ed Bangs, Fish and
Wildlife's gray wolf recovery
coordinator in Helena, Mont.
"We can only wait so long," Bangs said.
"It's time to move forward. We think a
viable option could be delisting by
The rule may also include eastern Oregon
and Washington and a small part of
northern Utah, Bangs said, though wolves
haven't settled there.
Once a rule is introduced, it would take
months for public comment -- or
Protections wouldn't be lifted on wolves
north of U.S. Interstate 90 in Idaho and
Montana, which are listed as endangered.
Fish and Wildlife estimates gray wolves
in the northern Rockies now number more
than 900, with 600 wolves in central
Idaho, up from just 35 introduced in
1995 and 1996. Montana has about 170,
and Wyoming has about 250.
As a plan to delist wolves in Idaho and
Montana takes shape, wolf advocates are
"In the past, Fish and Wildlife has
rejected the idea (of delisting by
state), because at that point, it did
not match the intention of the
Endangered Species Act," said Suzanne
Stone, a spokeswoman for Defenders of
Wildlife, which has reimbursed ranchers
$700,000 for wolf-related livestock
losses over 10 years.
"Our question will be, if it wasn't
legal earlier, why is it legal now?" she
Her group would oppose a delisting area
that includes Oregon, Washington and
Utah until there are actually wolves
there -- along with management plans to
Stone also fears once Idaho assumes
control, the state could eliminate many
of its 59 existing packs, because it's
only required to manage for 15 packs.
In July, Fish and Wildlife reiterated it
can't lift protections from Wyoming
wolves until the state sets firm limits
on how many can be killed and agrees to
a minimum population.
The state responded in August by saying
it would sue.
Meanwhile, calls for delisting are
growing stronger in Idaho, where
ranchers fear wolves are killing their
livestock, hunters complain the
predators hurt big game populations of
elk and deer, and Gov. Jim Risch calls
wolves a "nuisance."
This week, a rancher near the Hells
Canyon National Recreation area said he
suspects wolves have killed as many as
158 of his sheep in the last week.
Jeff Allen, policy adviser for the Idaho
Office of Species Conservation in Boise,
said he "wouldn't be surprised to see a
(proposed federal) rule shortly."
"Personally, I'm as optimistic as I've
been in years, about the potential for
delisting," Allen said, adding Fish and
Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall
told Idaho and Montana recently that
he's showing proposals to the U.S.
Department of Justice, "to get its
solicitors comfortable with the notion
of delisting by state."
In the northern Midwest, Fish and
Wildlife is also hoping finalize a rule
soon to remove federal protections from
wolves in habitat spanning Minnesota,
Michigan and Wisconsin.