- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

DENVER — By all accounts, the Canadian gray wolf has been one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act, its numbers in the Rocky Mountains soaring from none to nearly 800 in eight years.

Even so, a coalition of 17 environmental groups filed suit last week to reverse the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s April decision to reclassify the wolf’s status from “endangered” to “threatened,” saying the recovery still isn’t strong enough.

In a lawsuit filed Oct. 1 in federal court in Portland, Ore., the coalition argues that the Fish and Wildlife Service has violated the Endangered Species Act by removing a layer of protection before the wolf has been reintroduced to other states.

“Wolves were originally in more than 40 of the lower 48 states,” said Mike Senatore, litigation director of Defenders of Wildlife. “We’re not saying that you have to recover them everywhere, but you’ve still got significant chunks of federal land that can support significant wolf populations.

“What Fish and Wildlife is saying is, ‘No, we have no interest in putting wolves in those areas,’” he said.

Critics say the lawsuit is an example of the environmental movement refusing to be satisfied with victory. By using the court system to push for more gains, they say, environmentalists risk placing another wedge in their relationship with rural Westerners and leave themselves open to accusations of overreaching.

“I think people in Idaho have for the most part learned to live with wolves. We didn’t want them, but it’s been a smashing environmental success, and environmentalists should recognize that,” said John Thompson, spokesman for the Idaho Farm Bureau.

“I mean, how many wolves are enough? For Idaho, I think 300 to 400 is plenty,” he said.

One prominent environmentalist, Tom France of the National Wildlife Federation, accused the coalition of trying to snatch “defeat from the jaws of victory.” Days later, however, his organization said it also would sue to maintain the wolves’ endangered status, the Missoulian newspaper reported.

The coalition argues that Fish and Wildlife should move to introduce wolves to other areas in its historical range, including the southern Rockies and New England.

But Ed Bangs, the agency’s wolf-recovery coordinator, said that his job under the Endangered Species Act is to stop wolves from becoming endangered, and that job is done.

“They are saying we should put them everywhere. Well, is that everywhere they once were? Or everywhere they could be? I mean, we could have wolves in Kansas,” said Mr. Bangs. “They kind of want Fish and Wildlife to cram wolves down everybody’s throats.”

There are an estimated 3,500 gray wolves in two regions: the northern Rocky Mountain region and the Great Lakes states. About 800 of those wolves are in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, where the fight over wolf reintroduction has been the most contentious.

One organization, the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition, is raising money to file a class-action lawsuit to remove all wolves from Idaho. Rural lawmakers have decried the toll wolves have taken on cattle and sheep herds, while the Idaho Legislature passed a resolution calling for the elimination of wolves “by any means necessary.”

Since reclassifying the wolves to threatened status in April, the Fish and Wildlife Service has begun moving to have the animals delisted altogether. In that case, state fish and game agencies would assume wolf management.

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