Wolves: Undercutting the court 

The exhausting saga of the gray wolf in Montana and Idaho took several turns over the past week as officials try desperately to undercut an August court ruling by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy restoring federal protections for the population.

U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg released draft legislation Sept. 16 prohibiting the designation of wolves in Montana and Idaho as an endangered species. The proposed bill, an amendment to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, would award both states “exclusive jurisdiction over the management of Rocky Mountain gray wolves” within their respective borders. The latter stipulation seeks to put an end to the contentious debate over state management and would allow state agencies to renew hunting seasons on gray wolves.

From a biological perspective, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in Montana sees no problems with Rehberg’s push. Opponents of wolf hunts have maintained that the 2009 delisting of the animals was based on politics, not science. FWS Wolf Recovery Coordinator Ed Bangs believes otherwise, and says wolves in Montana and Idaho are ready to come under state management.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Bangs says, pointing to effective management of mountain lions, black bears, elk and deer. “If you look at the success of management of other species, the great successes have been under what they call the North American Model, which is this classic state management of wildlife.”

The same day Rehberg disseminated his draft bill, commissioners in Idaho County, Idaho, took more immediate steps to cull the wolf population by requesting an immediate disaster area declaration from Gov. Butch Otter. The commissioners cited “vast devastation” to the local economy and natural resources, demanding that wolves be declared a managed predator so federal officials can begin eradicating problem packs.

“Public safety is compromised,” the request states. “Economic activity is disrupted and private and public property continues to be imperiled.”

Otter’s office had no official response to the request as of press time, but Press Secretary Jon Hanian says Otter understands Idaho County’s plight and is currently pressuring the Department of the Interior to reach a management agreement.

“What they’re experiencing, that frustration is no different than what people in other counties all over are facing,” Hanian says.

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