The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a final rule Wednesday that officially removes wolves in Montana and Idaho from the Endangered Species list.
The rule comes on the heels of congressional action that compelled delisting.
“We are implementing the recent legislation that directs the delisting of the gray wolf in most of the northern Rocky Mountains,” Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes said in a prepared statement. “As with other delisted species, we will be applying the Endangered Species Act’s post-delisting monitoring requirements to ensure that wolf populations remain robust while under state wildlife management.”
Language that was attached to the 2011 appropriations bill by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., reinstated terms of a 2009 rule that delisted wolves in Montana and Idaho, as well as parts of Oregon, Washington and Utah.
Wolves in Wyoming will remain listed but that state is developing a management plan with the USWFS to allow for delisting.
“The gray wolf’s biological recovery reflects years of work by scientists, wildlife managers and our state, tribal and stakeholder partners to bring wolf populations back to healthy numbers,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who also was commenting on a proposal to delist wolves in the Great Lakes region.
The Northern Rockies delisting rule requires Idaho and Montana to manage wolves under approved management plans and to monitor populations for at least five years. Both state plans had regulated, quota-based wolf hunts in 2009.
On May 12, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission will get a hunting season proposal “that pretty much reflects what we proposed in spring of 2010,” said Ron Aasheim, chief of communications for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
That hunt, however, was derailed by an August court ruling that led to Tester’s legislation. The proposed hunt for this year will raise the statewide quota to 220, up from last year’s proposed 186, Aasheim said.
The state had a total minimum estimate of 556 wolves at the end of 2010. The state’s goal is to lower the population to 425 wolves, he added.
The proposal divides the state into 14 districts that will have varying quotas, based on wolf numbers and other factors, such as the presence of livestock and wolf impacts on big game populations.
For example, a district covering part of the Bob Marshall Wilderness will have a quota of just three, while there will be a quota of 18 for a district in the West Fork of the Bitterroot where wolf impacts on elk have been significant.
Livestock owners, meanwhile can now “haze, harass or kill wolves that they see chasing, molesting or harassing livestock, herding or guarding animals or domestic dogs,” Aasheim said. The incident must be reported to the state within 24 hours.
Aasheim said the commission will take public comments on the proposal until June 20 and it is scheduled to set a final season on July 14. The wolf season would coincide with the general big game season that gets under way in late October.
The delisting drew praise from Montana’s congressional delegation.
Tester said the move secures a system that will work best for Montana livestock, wildlife and the jobs they sustain.
“Our wolves have recovered and now state biologists need to manage them like any other recovered species,” he said.
“Today’s news puts an end to our hard-fought battle to return wolves in Montana to Montana management,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. “It’s about time the federal government puts Montanans back in control and end this debate for good. I’m proud to see Montana ranchers and hunters finally get the certainty the deserve once and for all.”
Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., noted that the wolf has now been delisted three times over the last three years by two administrations.
“Each time, I have praised the supremacy of science and the value of letting Montana manage our own wildlife,” he said. “I am hopeful that this time, against all history and precedent, the wolf will stay under state control.”
In Idaho, officials say Idaho Fish and Game biologists are updating wolf population and distribution estimates provided by USFWS and the Nez Perce Tribe. That information shows an estimated minimum of 705 wolves in Idaho at the end of 2010 in about 87 packs, at least 46 of which were documented as breeding pairs.
Fish and Game biologists will present updated information to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission at the May meeting in Lewiston.
Fish and Game will develop and present options for a fall wolf hunt to commissioners when they meet in July. Commissioners may adopt a harvest strategy at their scheduled August meeting.
It is still uncertain when wolf tags would go on sale.
Meanwhile, on Thursday the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater, and
WildEarth Guardians filed suit in federal court in Montana against the USFWS for delisting wolves.
“We will not allow the fate of endangered species to be determined by politicians serving special interests,” stated Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “These decisions must be based on science, not politics, and Congress has never before removed species from the Endangered Species list by political fiat. There is a well-established legal process that applies to every other species and pure political expediency should not be the driving force over which of our nation’s imperiled animals and plants will or will not be protected for future generations.”
The groups charge in their complaint that the delisting rider violates the U.S. Constitution because it specifically repeals a judicial decision. While Congress has the right to make and amend laws, the groups say, “the wolf delisting rider does not amend the Endangered Species Act -- it circumvents the judicial process by ordering the reinstatement of the 2009 rule that delisted wolves.”