MISSOULA, Mont. — Wolf management via closely regulated hunting can proceed in Idaho and Montana. That's the decision issued today by a federal judge who denied an emergency injunction request and ruled in favor of state wildlife agencies and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
A coalition of 13 environmental groups had sought to stop the hunts and return gray wolves to the endangered species list, but U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said the plaintiffs' key arguments were "unpersuasive."
A hearing was held Aug. 31 in federal court in Missoula, Mont.
"We're ecstatic because this is clearly the best decision for conservation overall," said David Allen, president and CEO of the Elk Foundation, which intervened in the litigation by entering an amicus curiae brief supporting wolf management via hunting.
In his ruling, Molloy wrote, "The defendants have offered scientific evidence that no irreparable harm will occur if the 2009 wolf hunts occur in Idaho and Montana. Plaintiffs have failed to offer any contrary evidence."
The environmental groups had argued that wolf populations would be irreparably harmed by the loss of any individual wolf. But Molloy wrote that the purpose of the Endangered Species Act is "to prevent species endangerment and extinction," and thus "with this purpose in mind, the measure of irreparable harm is taken in relation to the health of the overall species rather than individual members."
Molloy also cited biologist affidavits demonstrating that genetic connectivity between wolf packs will not be disrupted by hunting activities.
However, Molloy acknowledged that plaintiff arguments alleging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service improperly delisted wolves in Idaho and Montana, but not Wyoming, could have legal merit.
The environmental groups have promised an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Wolf hunting began Sept. 1 in Idaho and will begin Sept. 15 in Montana. The combined harvest quota is 330 wolves, which is 20 percent of the wolf population across the two states and well within the threshold of sustainable harvest, according to biologists. Wolf populations in the northern Rockies are expanding at a rate of 20 percent per year.
"We applaud Judge Molloy's decision and we're grateful that he considered our legal brief and the on-the-ground realities of this issue," Allen said. "Once you see through the emotion and look at local, real impacts to other species and livestock, state wildlife agencies and regulated hunting are the most logical option for balancing wolves — as well as every other species — within biological and cultural carrying capacities. It's a system that's been working well for over a century and it's what makes America's conservation system the envy of the world."
Allen also encouraged Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to step up their efforts to find a mutually agreeable plan for managing wolves.
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.6 million acres—a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.