Montana government officials and political leaders are pursuing a variety of options to counter a federal judge's recent ruling that put wolves back under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.
"It's kind of a dynamic thing, things keep moving," said Ron Aasheim, communications and education director for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Earlier this week, Idaho wildlife officials formally decided to appeal the decision from U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy that wolves in Montana and Idaho could not be delisted as long as Wyoming's wolf population still is protected. The federal government will not allow Wyoming wolves to be delisted because that state's wolf management plan is considered deficient.
"They made that decision," Aasheim said, referring to Idaho. "Certainly with an appeal, we're getting close to a decision ... We're just looking at all the options and the best way to approach it. That's the key."
Aasheim said there is hope that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would take the lead in an appeal, and he said there have been discussions about the potential for appealing and then seeking a settlement with the environmental groups that pursued the lawsuit.
Beyond a potential appeal, Aasheim said the department is exploring whether it's possible to have a "conservation hunt" for wolves under Endangered Species Act rules that allow for a "take" of a listed species under special circumstances. That decision would rest with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Aasheim said the department has communicated with Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., and both are considering some form of legislation to allow for broader authority for wolf management in Montana. Molloy's ruling effectively put an end to the state's second planned wolf hunting season, and it restricted the ability of ranchers to protect their livestock.
The department has organized a meeting in Helena this morning among a coalition of groups that want Montana to have the ability to manage its wolf population.
The group will include stockgrowers, woolgrowers, farm associations and several hunting groups.
Aasheim said another option involves working with Wyoming to reach a delisting solution for all three states. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials were returning from a tri-state meeting in Wyoming on Thursday where the wolf ruling was an issue of discussion. Aasheim could not say what came out of the meeting.
Sens. Baucus and Jon Tester, D-Mont., weighed in on the matter Thursday, requesting more discussions among Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, and writing to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar seeking full funding for a livestock loss mitigation program established by legislation written by Tester.
Both senators touted Montana's work in creating an effective management plan for wolves.
"In the pursuit of finding a lasting solution, we strongly support state management and believe that it can be used to achieve a healthy population of gray wolves while balancing the needs of communities in this region," the senators state in their letter to Salazar.
"To this end, we ask you to convene discussions between all stakeholders in the tri-state region in Montana this fall. Working through a collaborative process can bring resolution to this problem if all the relevant parties are engaged."
On Monday (August 16) the Idaho Fish and Game Commission decided Idaho should remain in the lead role in managing wolves despite their return to endangered species status.
But commissioners want a new agreement with the federal government for lead management to include some changes to restrict the use of license dollars from being used on wolf management and to reflect state priorities better.
The commission adopted a resolution that calls for actions in response to the court decision that returned gray wolves in the Northern Rockies to the endangered species list, including:
--- Remaining ready to resume state management when wolves are again removed from Endangered Species Act protection.
--- Working with Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's office and Idaho's congressional delegation on federal legislation to solve this problem.
--- Supporting an appeal of the court decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
--- Pursuing all options to get wolves off the endangered species list and to reestablish a public hunting season.