MSGA cautiously optimistic after wolf delisting announcement
Jan. 14, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett announced the removal of the western Great Lakes population and portions of the northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act. The northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population Segment includes all of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, the eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon, and a small part of north-central Utah. Currently, wolves within Wyoming will not be delisted and continue to be protected by the Act due to a lack of adequate regulatory mechanisms ensuring their protection under state law, according to Scarlett. The Jan. 14 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is scheduled to take effect 30 days after the publication in the Federal Register.
"While it is unfortunate that Wyoming is not included in this delisting decision, Montana can now take an active role in managing wolves across the entire state in an effort to reduce the troubling increase in livestock depredations currently plaguing our industry," said Tom Hougen, president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association.
MSGA intervened on behalf of the state of Montana and the USFWS in the July 2008 court case filed by a coalition of 11 environmental groups challenging the USFWS's February 2008 decision to delist the gray wolf. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy later granted a preliminary injunction to restore protections for the wolves. The USFWS subsequently remanded the proposed delisting rule and committed to proposing a new rule that addressed Judge Molloy's decision. MSGA fully anticipates radical environmental groups will challenge this new rule.
"We hope the USFWS is better prepared to defend its decision this time around, as it most likely will go to court," Hougen said. "Livestock producers can't afford this flip-flopping on the status of wolves in Montana. We need clear and consistent rules that allow us to protect our livestock anywhere in the state."
The Rocky Mountain wolf population has far exceeded the objectives originally set for delisting. At the beginning of the wolf introduction, the recovery goal was set at a minimum of 30 breeding pairs and 300 individual wolves for at least three consecutive years. That goal was achieved in 2002 and has been met ever since. The summer wolf population count declared 1,455 wolves known to exist in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Meanwhile, confirmed wolf livestock depredations are on the rise with 411 cattle and sheep killed between January and June of 2008 compared to 296 in 2007.
"Montana ranchers have been waiting for this decision for eight years now," Hougen said. "Wolves have established themselves firmly in our state. They are thriving and expanding their range, often at the expense of the livestock industry. Removing the gray wolf from the endangered species list is long overdue."