Judge: government wrong to downgrade wolf
GRANTS PASS, Ore. – A federal judge has ruled the Bush administration violated the Endangered Species act when it downgraded populations of the gray wolf from endangered to threatened.In a ruling released Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones in Portland rescinded the April 2003 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that divided wolf range into three areas, and reclassified the eastern and western populations as threatened instead of endangered. Wolves in the southwest had remained endangered.”Interior Secretary Gale Norton tried to gerrymander the entire contiguous 48 states so that wolves in a few areas would make up for the absence of wolves in much larger regions,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the 19 environmental groups bringing the lawsuit.”Now, instead of drawing lines on the map based on political considerations, any future lines must be based on science.”The judge ruled that Norton improperly applied the policy for designating distinct population segments, extending the boundaries from core areas where wolves are doing well to include areas where they are not doing well.As a result, the status of populations varied dramatically within the western population segment, from recovered in parts of Montana, to precarious in Washington, to extinct in Nevada, the judge ruled.The judge also found that Norton was wrong to conclude that the only significant portion of the wolf’s range was the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rockies, because wolves once ranged over a much wider area of the country.Fish and Wildlife was examining the ruling, considering what needs to be done legally and biologically to get back on track, and considering whether to appeal, said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the agency.”It will take us a little bit of time to figure that out,” he said.The court order rescinds federal rules that allow ranchers to shoot wolves on sight if they are attacking livestock, but practically speaking, that only affects wolves in northwestern Montana, said Bangs.The rule downgrading wolves to threatened never extended to the experimental populations established in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho and the rest of Montana, Bangs said. And while stray wolves have been spotted in states such as Oregon and Washington, no packs have been established in other states.”We haven’t had a wolf killed by a private citizen defending private property since the new rule went into effect,” Bangs said. “I think most of it now is more in the potential range.”He said the Fish and Wildlife Service can still control problem wolves if necessary.Virtually wiped out in the lower 48 states to control predation on livestock, wolves were reduced to a small population in northern Minnesota by the 1970s. In the 1980s, a small number migrated naturally into northwest Montana from Canada.In a 1987 plan, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed reintroduction of an “experimental” population in Yellowstone. In the early 1990s, a decision was made to reintroduce wolves to the park and wilder parts of central Idaho.Gray wolves were reintroduced in and around Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and 1996, and federal wildlife officials have declared their recovery a success. Officials estimate there are now 825 or more wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.A small number of Mexican wolves were reintroduced in the southwest in 1998.
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