Conservation Groups Fighting To Protect Gray Wolves In Idaho And Montana

In Idaho and Montana, activist groups are fighting to halt planned wolf hunts beginning at the end of the month. Three bills were recently passed that have stripped gray wolves of federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. If the wolf hunts are allowed to occur, the already dangerously precarious population of gray wolves may go extinct.

Several activist groups, including the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, filed an emergency request with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday, asking that the hunts be canceled until the court issues a decision in an appeal filed earlier in the week.

Wolf hunts are scheduled to begin on August 30th in Idaho and September 3rd in Montana. If the hunts are allowed to take place, hunters in Montana will be able to shoot as many as 220 gray wolves, which would reduce the state’s gray wolf population by 25%. Idaho, which is home to approximately 1,000 gray wolves, has not yet issued the exact number of wolves that can be killed; instead, wildlife managers have announced that at least 150 wolves will be allowed to live, including 15 breeding pairs.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy upheld a provision attached to a budget bill that was passed by Congress in April. The provision stipulated that gray wolves be stripped of federal protections in Idaho and Montana, as well as parts of Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Protections still remain on the 343 gray wolves that live in Wyoming, but possibly not for long- according to the Wyoming governor Mike Mead, wolves in Wyoming may also lose their federal protections and be vulnerable to hunting by as early as next fall.

The lawmakers responsible for taking away the rights of wolves are Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho, and Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana. This is the first time Congress has forcibly lifted protections for a plant or animal since the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

Judge Molloy ruled that removing protections on gray wolves did not violate the Constitution and was therefore permissible. Conversely, conservation groups are arguing that removing protections from gray wolves is unconstitutional and therefore the wolves should be protected. Specifically, conservationists have pointed out that the provision violates the separation of powers, a part of the Constitution designed to ensure that none of the three branches of the government impede on the autonomy of the other branches.

Because the population of gray wolves is so low, conservationists are worried that if wolf hunts are allowed to take place, the wolf population may never recover. Activists are asking that the hunts be placed on hold until the wolf population rises to at least 2,000 to 5,000. They have also pointed out the importance of the geographical spread of wolves; instead of being concentrated in one or two states, they should be spread out all over the western states.

Despite the fact that federal protections have been lifted for the gray wolf, the wolf population in the Western United States is still dangerously low. Wolves are routinely hunted, and fewer than 100 wolves have been reintroduced to the area since the mid-1990s, when wolves nearly became extinct. To ensure that gray wolves thrive instead of going extinct, it’s extremely important that federal protection be reinstated.

To learn more about the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and their fight to protect gray wolves, visit their website and learn how you can help.

Photo Credit: fws.gov/midwest/wolf/images/wolf1forbiologue.jpg

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