Groups Sue USFWS Over Denial Of Petition To Protect Gray Wolves In Northern Rocky Mountains

Four conservation and animal protection groups have sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for denying their petition to protect gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains under the Endangered Species Act.

“We’re back in court to save the wolves and we’ll win again,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Fish and Wildlife Service is thumbing its nose at the Endangered Species Act and letting wolf-hating states sabotage decades of recovery efforts. It’s heartbreaking and it has to stop.”

The petition filed in 2021 by the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund and Sierra Club sought to restore federal protections to gray wolves in the northern Rockies. The Service denied the petition in February, “even though its own scientists predict that rampant wolf killing under state laws could reduce the region’s wolf population from an estimated 2,534 wolves to as few as 667,” said the groups in a press release.

The agency, say the groups, “has ignored warnings from conservation geneticists and other scientists that a sharp decline in population size would imperil the northern Rockies wolves, who are already at long-term risk of extinction. High levels of killing would also hurt wolf recovery elsewhere in United States, like the West Coast and southern Rockies states. Wolf populations in these states rely on wolves traveling from the northern Rockies to increase genetic diversity and ensure a healthy, stable future for the species.”

“We will not idly stand by while the federal government erases decades of wolf recovery by permitting northern Rockies states to wage war on these animals,” said Margie Robinson, staff attorney for wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States. “Under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot ignore crucial scientific findings. Rather than allow states to cater to trophy hunters, trappers and ranchers, the agency must ensure the preservation of wolves — who are vital to ensuring healthy ecosystems — for generations to come.”

Recent changes in Montana state laws allow wolves to be killed using bait and strangulation snares, permit a single hunter to hunt 10 wolves and trap an additional 10, and lengthen the wolf-trapping season. In Idaho, recent changes authorize the state to hire private contractors to kill wolves, allow hunters to purchase an unlimited number of wolf-killing tags and permit hunters to kill wolves by chasing them down with hounds and all-terrain vehicles.

Across most of Wyoming wolves are designated as “predatory animals” and can be killed without a license in nearly any manner and at any time. Wyoming hunters have killed several wolves just a few miles from the border with Colorado, where wolves are returning to the state through dispersals and historic releases.

“While wolves in the northern Rockies remain unprotected, states continue to facilitate the unabated slaughter of this iconic species,” said Gillian Lyons, director of regulatory affairs at the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to take action when a species is at risk of extinction — and wolves are no exception. Our lawsuit today lets the agency know that we will hold them accountable to their statutory duty to protect species like wolves from extinction.”

The conservation groups’ lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the Service to use current science and to reevaluate whether gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains warrant ESA protection.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana.

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.

In August 2022, the groups sued the Service for failing to make a final decision on the petition to protect gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. The agency’s denial of the groups’ petition was announced in February 2024.

In early February 2024, the agency also announced that that it will develop — for the first time — a national recovery plan under the ESA for gray wolves in the lower 48 states. That commitment stems from a successful lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity. The agency, say the groups, will exclude wolves in the northern Rockies from that planning effort unless they regain their federal protections.

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