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July 21, 2008 2:30 pm

Wolves back to endangered list

Written by Tribune Staff

Wolves are back on endangered species status, at least temporarily, killing fall wolf hunting in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
Late Friday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula, Mont., granted a preliminary injunction restoring federal protection for wolves in the Northern Rockies.
“I think he made a mistake,” said Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, of Molloy's injunction. “He made a decision without considering the facts.”
Nonetheless, it means the federal government is once again in the wolf-management driver's seat — temporarily, at least.
According to a Wyoming Game and Fish Department news release, the judge's decision means wolves cannot be killed in Wyoming unless the animals are attacking livestock.
“It is a step forward,” said Louisa Willcox, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the conservation groups that challenged the delisting in March. “But we are a long way from getting the issue resolved.”
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., is not pleased with the ruling and said so in a news release Saturday.
“Today's ruling by an activist judge was not based on sound science, but rather (on) pressure from environmental groups making exaggerating claims. After years of struggle and debate, we are right back where we started — with Washington, not Wyoming, in control over wolf management. That is unacceptable to me and to the people of Wyoming.”
Willcox said Molloy was concerned about biological connectivity between Yellowstone Park wolves and wolves around the region. If packs can't connect with other packs, wolf genetic viability will suffer.
Molloy said hunting and killing of wolves because of livestock attacks would eliminate any chance for genetic exchange to occur.
Willcox said the judge felt the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service flip-flopped. First the service rejected Wyoming's plan and then reversed its decision.
Childers said that Wyoming Game and Fish provided plenty of data showing that Wyoming's wolf management plan would not put wolves back on the Endangered Species roll in the future.
“So what's the problem,” Childers asked. “I don't think the judge considered the facts.”
Childers said the wolf's genetic viability is not at risk under Wyoming's plan.
“There is nothing preventing the wolves moving around even if they are hunted,” Childers said.
Childers said elk from Yellowstone National Park are hunted when they leave the park and the elk population is doing OK.
Game and Fish and the Wildlife Service are drafting an agreement to manage wolves together until a final decision is made, said a department news release. “Under this agreement, the department will likely remain active in monitoring, conflict resolution and law enforcement activities related to wolves in the state under the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
Now is the time to find ways for wolves and stock growers to coexist, Willcox said. She said conservation groups and others must exercise compassion when addressing the needs of ranchers.
“The practice of avoiding conflicts is expensive,” Willcox said.
“It isn't the final decision yet,” said Childers, “it is just an injunction.”
Pro or con, the wolf issue is not out of the woods yet. Eventually Molloy will decide whether the injunction should be permanent.
“We (conservation groups) have a chance to re-group and wolves got a reprieve,” Willcox said.
Melanie Stein of the Sierra Club approved Molloy's decision. She said aggressive wolf-killing practices, coupled with genetic isolation and planned hunting in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming could have pushed wolf numbers dangerously low.
According to Fish and Wildlife, about 2,000 wolves are now making their home in the Northern Rockies since re-introduction over 10 years ago.