The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday denied a challenge to congressional action that effectively de-listed wolves in the Northern Rockies last year.
The three-judge panel rejected the Center for Biological Diversity’s claim that the congressional budget rider violated the separation of powers doctrine by interfering with the judicial system.
The panel found that Congress was within its rights to pass the legislation that appropriately amended the Endangered Species Act, putting wolves under state management authority in the Northern Rockies.
The plaintiffs were disappointed in the decision, saying that it disregarded the fact that Congress blocked judicial review and ordered an outcome in the case.
“Congress set a terrible precedent by passing this backdoor rider that took away protections from wolves,” said Michael Robinson, a wolf expert with the center. “Scientists, not politicians, need to decide which species need protection ... That’s the law. And that’s what makes sense if we’re going to save animals and plants from extinction.”
But advocates of wolf delisting maintain that science, rather than judges, should determine what species are protected under the ESA. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has maintained that the Northern Rockies wolf population has been fully recovered for more than a decade, and the agency has delisted the species twice. The first delisting was overturned in court and last year’s delisting has been upheld.
“This is a huge win for real wildlife management in the U.S.,” said David Allen, president and chief executive officer of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “We’re thrilled with the favorable ruling because it upholds the law as well as science and common sense. This decision helps clear the way for continued work by true conservationists to balance wolf populations with other wildlife and human needs.”
Montana Sen. Jon Tester, who co-sponsored the legislation, said “This decision is right for Montana because Montana’s wolves are recovered and they must be managed like other wildlife. My law is bipartisan, science-based and welcomed by conservationists, hunters and ranchers. I’m pleased the courts agree it’s constitutional.”
The federal government’s annual wolf report for 2011 found that the minimum count for the wolf population in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and parts of eastern Washington and Oregon was 1,700 wolves.
Despite regulated wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho that have removed nearly 600 wolves from the population over the last year, the report estimates that the overall Northern Rockies population increased by about 15 percent since 2010.
In other wolf news, the 2011 annual summary of wolf monitoring in Idaho is now available, and it shows wolf numbers are down for the second consecutive year.
The 2011 Idaho Wolf Monitoring Progress Report includes the current status of the wolf population in Idaho.
Biologists documented 101 Idaho wolf packs at the end of 2011. The population at the end of 2011 was estimated at 746 wolves, down from a high of 856 at the end of 2009. At the end of 2010, the population estimate was 777 wolves. The 2010 annual report was compiled by the Nez Perce Tribe.
"Thanks to Idaho's hunters and trappers, we've made good progress in getting the wolf population under control and into better balance with prey species, such as elk, but we've still got a ways to go," said Jim Unsworth, Idaho Fish and Game deputy director.
In addition, 24 documented border packs were counted for Montana, Wyoming and Washington that established territories overlapping the Idaho state boundary and spent some time in Idaho.
Of the 63 packs known to have reproduced, 40 packs qualified as breeding pairs by the end of the year.
In Idaho, wolf packs ranged from the Canadian border south to Interstate 84, and from the Washington and Oregon borders east to the Montana and Wyoming borders. Dispersing wolves were occasionally reported in previously unoccupied areas.
Ten previously unknown packs were documented during 2011, but the overall net increase was only six packs in the state, with four other packs removed during the year.
"We'll continue to work in conjunction with the Nez Perce Tribe to monitor wolves to ensure Idaho's wolf population stays above recovery levels," said Jeff Gould, Fish and Game wildlife bureau chief. "Meeting federal obligations for documenting wolf abundance and distribution during the five-year post-delisting period is expensive and labor intensive. It is critically important the state continue to receive adequate federal funding for meeting Endangered Species Act requirements during the post-delisting period."
Biologists confirmed the deaths of 296 wolves in Idaho during 2011. Of known wolf mortalities, hunter and trapper harvest accounted for 200 deaths, and agency control and legal landowner take in response to wolf-livestock depredation accounted for 63 deaths.
Eighteen wolf deaths were attributed to other human causes, including illegal take. The cause of 12 wolf mortalities could not be determined and were listed as unknown, and three wolves died of natural causes.
Also in 2011, 71 cattle, 121 sheep, three horses, six dogs and two domestic bison were confirmed as wolf kills. Nineteen cattle, 26 sheep, one horse and one dog were considered probable wolf kills.
The Idaho progress report is available online at: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/public/wildlife/wolves/
In addition, since the beginning of this year, 145 wolves were taken by hunters and trappers, 14 were taken in a Lolo Zone aerial control action, nine were taken in other Wildlife Service control actions around the state and one died of parvovirus. That makes an additional 169 dead so far in 2012.
In Washington, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife now has an online reporting system for receiving information from the public about the state’s growing wolf population.
Anyone who believes they have seen a wolf, heard one howl, or found other evidence of wolves anywhere in the state is encouraged to file a report on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/reporting/
Donny Martorello, WDFW carnivore section manager, said the information provided in the reports will help wildlife managers document wolf activity and build a database on wolves in Washington.
“Our state’s wolf-management efforts depend on knowing how many wolves are here, where they are, and where they’re going,” Martorello said. “By filing reports on wolf activities, the public can help us direct our monitoring efforts.”
Virtually absent from the state for more than 70 years, gray wolves are now dispersing into eastern Washington and the North Cascades from adjacent populations in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and British Columbia.
During spring and summer, state wildlife managers will use citizen reports to help locate new wolf packs and pups, Martorello said. As part of that effort, they will capture and fit wolves with radio collars to monitor their movements.
Those who file a wolf-activity report using the new online system are asked to provide their name and other identifying information, along with an account of their observations. An interactive map on that site allows users to determine and log the latitude and longitude of the activities they have observed.
“The online system has some real advantages when it comes to gathering and correlating information from throughout the state,” said Martorello, noting that it also holds promise as an educational tool. By early summer, the site will include a map displaying areas of the state where wolf activity has been reported, he said.
In a field survey conducted last summer, WDFW confirmed the presence of five wolf packs in Washington, and observed at least 27 members of those packs, including three successful breeding pairs. There is also growing evidence of unconfirmed packs near Kettle Falls in northeastern Washington, in the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington and in the North Cascades, as well as transient single wolves.
Gray wolves are currently listed as endangered under state law throughout Washington, and under federal law in the western two-thirds of the state.
Under the state’s wolf conservation and management plan, adopted late last year, wolves will be removed from the state’s endangered species list once 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years among three wolf-recovery regions (four pairs in Eastern Washington, four pairs in North Cascades, four pairs in South Cascades/Northwest Coast, and three pairs in any recovery region).
The plan also gives WDFW the option to initiate action to delist gray wolves if 18 breeding pairs are documented in a single year. Under that option, at least four pairs must be in Eastern Washington, four pairs in North Cascades, four pairs in South Cascades/Northwest Coast, and six additional pairs in any recovery region.
More information on wolves is available at: http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/