The bid to lift endangered species list protections from wolves in Montana and Idaho will begin in January 2007, regardless of Wyoming wolves’ uncertain status, officials said Dec. 19.
The move, announced by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dale Hall, comes after pressure from Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Idaho Gov. Jim Risch, who’ve argued that management disputes between FWS and Wyoming shouldn’t prevent complete assumption of state control in Montana and Idaho, where long-term management plans have been already been sanctioned.
Carolyn Sime, Montana’s statewide wolf coordinator, says Montana has been ready for this change since 2003, when populations met recovery goals and the state’s management plan secured federal approval. Montana’s plan calls for maintenance of 15 wolf packs as a benchmark; as of November 2006 there were an estimated 59 packs and 300 wolves statewide, Sime says.
Once wolves are delisted in Montana, they’ll be classified as a “species in need of management,” which means that citizens will be able to shoot wolves found “attacking, killing or threatening to kill” people, livestock or domestic dogs, Sime says.
The move also triggers the possibility of a statewide hunting and trapping season for wolves, and Sime says public meetings about the prospect will be held in coming months. Delisting itself isn’t a done deal until FWS accepts and reacts to public comment beginning in January 2007, but Sime says Montana will begin working on a potential hunting season under the assumption that delisting will move ahead.
Suzanne Asha Stone, Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife, says her group will fight FWS’ delisting proposal because in their view it threatens to set “very bad precedent.” She says the region’s wolves are interdependent populations that can’t be managed in isolation, and that all three states must have working management plans in place before delisting proceeds.
“We all know the ultimate goal is delisting and we support that,” Stone says. “But what’s also important is to make sure that the factors that caused wolves to become endangered in the first place are addressed.”