- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

DENVER — The gray wolf has thrived so spectacularly in the Northern Rockies that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday removed it from its list of threatened and endangered species.

“The wolf population in the Northern Rockies has far exceeded its recovery goal and continues to expand in size and range,” said Interior Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett, calling the wolves a “remarkable conservation success story.”

But wildlife groups yesterday vowed to file a lawsuit to block the delisting, warning the move would translate into open season among those who blame the wolf for livestock losses.

“If all the protections are stripped from the wolf, particularly in Wyoming, that means they can be killed at any time. There’s nothing to stop them,” said Suzanne Stone, Defenders of Wildlife’s Northern Rockies wolf-conservation specialist.

Earthjustice plans to file an injunction after the delisting order is printed in the Federal Register next week to stop the order from taking effect until the matter can be resolved in court.

By delisting the wolf, the federal government turns over wolf-management chores to wildlife agencies in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. An estimated 1,500 wolves now roam the three-state area, including 100 breeding pairs.

Critics argue the states’ management plans, which would become controlling law if the federal delisting goes though, contain too few restrictions on shooting wolves.

Under the federal rules, wolves could only be shot by wildlife officials if it could be proved the predator was feeding on livestock. “But if they killed a dog or were just prowling around the herd, there was nothing they could do,” said John Thompson, spokesman for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.

The restrictions resulted in significant livestock losses for ranchers, as well as the loss of untold hunting and outfitting dogs. “Wolves are very aggressive with dogs. Whenever wolves and dogs cross paths, dogs die,” Mr. Thompson said.

The state management plans allow ranchers, hunters and other private citizens to shoot wolves with fewer restrictions. Since anti-wolf sentiment runs high in many rural areas, some environmentalists have predicted an all-out war on the predators.

“It’s basically open season now everywhere outside Yellowstone National Park,” where hunting isn’t allowed, said Rob Edward, spokesman for Wild Earth Guardians in Boulder, Colo. “These plans are wholly inadequate and represent an 1870s mentality. They’ve only agreed to maintain the bare minimum.”

The wolves were reintroduced in 1995 after disappearing from the region as a result of uncontrolled hunting and trapping over the previous century. Wildlife specialists originally set a recovery goal of 300 wolves, which was achieved in 2002.

Ken Hamilton, executive vice-president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, said fears of unrestrained wolf hunting were unfounded.

“The reality is, you’re going to see limited opportunity for someone to control wolves through opportunistic shooting,” Mr. Hamilton said. “We’ve never seen that as a huge tool that’s going to prevent livestock losses.”

Mr. Thompson said most Idaho wolf shootings occur happenstance when a hunter searching for elk or deer happens upon a wolf, rather than a deliberate move to track down the animals, which tend to burrow in the state’s inaccessible central mountains.

“The environmentalists are convinced the wolves are going to be hunted down by the hundreds, but that’s almost impossible,” said Mr. Thompson. “Even if Fish and Wildlife went out in a plane today and started shooting wolves, it wouldn’t do much. They get into the timber and there’s nothing you can do.”

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