Conservation groups suing over gray wolf decision

Posted 2/13/24

After the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined calls for the return of gray wolf protections under the Endangered Species Act were not warranted, announcing their decision Feb. 2, 10 …

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Conservation groups suing over gray wolf decision


After the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined calls for the return of gray wolf protections under the Endangered Species Act were not warranted, announcing their decision Feb. 2, 10 conservation groups last Wednesday filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The groups, claiming Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have an “extinction agenda,” said the decision ignores obvious threats to the species, runs contrary to best available science, and relies on flawed population models for its determination.

“The current killing regimes in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming put wolves at obvious risk of extinction in the foreseeable future, and this core population is key to wolf survival in the West,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “Even if the states’ population estimates were defensible — and they aren’t, according to recent scientific analyses — the feds are underestimating the extinction agendas of anti-wolf state governments and the small and tentative state of recovering wolf populations elsewhere in the West.” 

In announcing the decision, the Fish and Wildlife Service said they conducted a comprehensive analysis using robust modeling that incorporated the best available data from federal, state and tribal sources, academic institutions and the public. Models assessed various threats, including human-caused mortality, existing regulatory mechanisms and disease. The analysis indicates that wolves are not at risk of extinction.

Kelly Nokes, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center representing the groups, claims the federal government’s modeling exercises are flawed and gives a green light for states hostile to wolves to follow the three states’ “aggressive killing regimes if they are eventually delisted and transferred to state management West wide.”

“We will continue to fight for the protections this iconic species needs to be rightfully restored across the West’s wild landscape — protections that some states have shown only the Endangered Species Act can really provide,” she said.

According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, increasing demands for accurate estimates and sound management objectives in the latter part of the 20th century prompted the state’s development of “sophisticated estimation techniques feasible for wildlife managers to use on a regular basis throughout the state.”

“Population models are designed to simulate (or mimic) what the wildlife manager observes in the field,” the state reported in the department’s Handbook of Biological Techniques.

The publication said models help organize and analyze data, test different management scenarios, and generate questions or hypotheses about vital population parameters and other considerations. If data quality or sample adequacy are issues, these can almost always be identified during modeling exercises. A simulation model is essentially a computerized accounting system with a graphics package, and it relies on a life table to project a population’s response to changes in reproduction and mortality.

“A population model enables managers to rapidly simulate scenarios that test the effects of hunting seasons on populations, without actually having to conduct a hunting season to demonstrate the effects. Changes in other parameters can also be tested,” the handbook reports.

Yet, the conservation groups are claiming science is ignored in the three states when it’s politically inconvenient.

“Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have become the poster children for what happens when politics trumps science,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense. “They are cruelly driving wolves in the northern Rockies to extinction via wanton shooting, trapping, snaring, even driving over them with a snowmobile. Science shows us the importance of intact pack structures. Each family member has a vital role to play and they grieve each loss.”

The groups also claim the decision ignores sacred religious beliefs among Native Americans.

“It’s deeply concerning to hear that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided not to list gray wolves, a sacred species to Native Americans in the western U.S. under the Endangered Species Act, while ignoring traditional sacred religious beliefs of traditional Native Americans,” said Roger Dobson with Protect The Wolves. “Hopefully, the Service will take steps to address the problems with their determination before it’s too late for these native wildlife species, before violating Indigenous religious beliefs.”

The organizations suing include the Western Watersheds Project, International Wildlife Coexistence Network, Predator Defense, Protect the Wolves, Trap Free Montana, WildEarth Guardians, Wilderness Watch, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater and Nimiipuu Protecting Our Environment,

Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), plaintiffs are required to provide a notice no less than 60 days before filing certain types of lawsuits against the federal government. For example, a 60-day notice is required before plaintiffs may file a lawsuit seeking to compel the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a decision on an ESA listing petition. The primary purpose of the 60-day notice is to give the federal government an opportunity to review and, if necessary, correct the alleged ESA violation before incurring the cost of defending a lawsuit. Failure to meticulously comply with the 60-day notice requirement often results in a dismissal of the lawsuit.