WASHINGTON—Wildlife conservation organizations sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for missing its deadline to decide whether gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains warrant federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The deadline was set following a May 2021 petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund and Sierra Club. The petition asked the Service to again protect gray wolves in the northern Rockies after Idaho and Montana enacted aggressive wolf-killing laws last year. It asked for emergency protection and immediate relisting of wolves under the Endangered Species Act, arguing that federal protection is necessary to prevent wolves from being virtually eradicated from the northern Rockies as a result of the new laws.
“Because Idaho and Montana are hellbent on eradicating wolves from their states, these animals desperately need federal protection now,” said Andrea Zaccardi, carnivore conservation legal director at the Center. “The Fish and Wildlife Service can’t stand idly by while these states let hunters and trappers kill hundreds of wolves every year.”
Idaho law now allows the state to hire private contractors to kill wolves, lets hunters and trappers kill an unlimited number of wolves, and permits year-round trapping on private land. It also allows hunters and trappers to kill wolves using hounds or by chasing them down with all-terrain vehicles.
In Montana wolf-hunters can now use night-vision scopes and spotlights on private land, strangulation snares on public and private land, and bait to lure wolves across the state. A single hunter can now purchase up to 10 wolf-hunting licenses, and trappers have a bag limit of 10 wolves; a person who has both hunting and trapping tags can thus kill 20 of the animals. Montana’s new laws also extend the wolf-trapping season by four weeks and approve a bounty program to reimburse hunters and trappers for costs associated with killing wolves.
“Time is running out for wolves in the northern Rockies,” said Nicholas Arrivo, managing attorney for wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States. “If federal action is not taken urgently, another deadly season of cruel, unregulated slaughter may leave us without much of a population to protect.”
In September 2021 the Service issued an initial finding stating that high levels of human-caused mortality may be threatening wolves and that the federal protection requested by the May 2021 petition may be warranted. But the Service missed its deadline to make a final determination on whether to institute that protection. Under federal law, the agency is required to make its final decision within one year of receiving the petition.
“These aggressive new wolf-killing laws in Montana and Idaho allow virtual eradication of northern Rockies gray wolves and set recovery efforts back by decades,” said Bonnie Rice, a senior representative of the Sierra Club. “These laws shred the framework that the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to in delisting wolves in 2011 and handing their management over to the states. The Service must recognize the grave impacts to wolves from these egregious laws and reinstate federal protections immediately.”
Wolves in Idaho, Montana, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and northern Utah lost federal protections through a congressional legislative rider in 2011. Following a court battle, wolves in Wyoming also lost federal protection in 2012. Since losing Endangered Species Act protection, wolves in the northern Rockies have fallen victim to widespread persecution.
“President Biden once proclaimed that his grandkids were worried about the fate of wolves,” said Tracie Letterman, vice president of federal affairs at the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “That concern is well-founded due to extreme wolf-killing laws in Idaho and Montana. The science shows that gray wolves in the northern Rockies need federal protections as mandated under the Endangered Species Act and the Fish and Wildlife Service must act quickly to establish those protections—not just for President Biden’s grandkids, but for all Americans.”
Today’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Montana. The suit asks that the court set a binding date by which the Service must issue its finding on the need to protect gray wolves in the northern Rockies. Fall wolf-hunting seasons will be underway soon, with the opening of trapping season following shortly thereafter.