Montana, Idaho governors act to keep wolves from ranchers’ doors

FB News
March 7, 2011

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer recently put the federal government on notice that he is directing Montana game wardens not to prosecute any rancher or other livestock owner who kills a wolf that was harassing stock. In a Feb. 16 letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Schweitzer also said that he would order Montana Fish,
Wildlife and Parks officials to remove whole packs that prey on livestock, as well as wolves that prey on elk in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, near Missoula.

Schweitzer’s move is considered a bold one because the wolves he is ordering the department to remove are classified as “endangered,” rather than “experimental.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, experimental populations can be managed. The law allows landowners to kill a wolf in the act of attacking livestock or pets and allows state officials to carry out approved control methods. Endangered populations must be left alone.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter sent a similar letter to Salazar in October. However, Otter gave up all state responsibility for wolf management, instructing the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to instead focus on protecting livestock, elk and other hooved animals.

The goal for recovery in the Northern Rockies, published in the mid-1990s, was 300 wolves. In March 2008, when the population was approximately 1,500, the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf was declared fully recovered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and removed from the Endangered Species List.

Soon after FWS’ decision was announced, several groups sought an injunction against the delisting, which was granted. FWS reopened its comments in October 2008 and on April 2, 2009, FWS ruled to allow delisting in Montana and Idaho. On the heels of that decision, the Defenders of Wildlife and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition sued the Department of the Interior regarding the delisting.

The Montana and Idaho Farm Bureaus were granted intervenor status in the case. In August 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy ruled that that FWS’ decision to delist the wolf in Idaho and Montana was wrong. Molloy’s ruling said the Endangered Species Act did not allow managing a wide-range population differently
from state to state.

Montana and Idaho Farm Bureaus appealed the ruling and this January, Judge Molloy asked those on either side of the case if the transplanted wolves were fully threatened or if they remained experimental/non-essential. Molloy wants to know how wolves
reintroduced to the area can or cannot be distinguished from protected natural populations into which they interbreed.

However, before Molloy hears oral arguments, scheduled for March 24, Rep. Mike Simpson (RIdaho) wants Congress to remove wolves from the endangered list in Montana, Idaho and parts of Oregon, Washington and Utah.

A provision to do that is included in a House-passed measure to fund the government through Sept. 30. Simpson was optimistic the Senate would pass the bill, but lawmakers last week approved a short-term extension instead.

Also on Capitol Hill, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) has introduced two wolf-related bills in the House. One (H.R. 509) would exclude gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is the lead sponsor of a companion bill (S. 249) in the Senate. Rehberg’s other measure (H.R. 510) would prohibit the treatment of gray wolves as endangered in Idaho and Montana.