In a move that's sure to disappoint conservationists and almost certainly lead to another round of lawsuits, officials in the Obama administration will proceed with the delisting of gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains.
"The successful recovery of this species is a stunning example of how the (Endangered Species) Act can work to keep imperiled animals from sliding into extinction," Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a prepared statement Friday. "The recovery of the wolf has not been the work of the federal government alone. It has been a long and active partnership including states, tribes, landowners, academic researchers, sportsmen and other conservation groups, the Canadian government and many other partners."
Wolves will specifically be delisted from protection under the ESA in all of Idaho and Montana and in portions of eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and northern Utah. But, like the decision announced just days before former President Bush left office in January, wolves living in Wyoming will remain listed.
Federal officials have said Wyoming's classification of wolves as "predators" across the majority of the state threatens their recovery. That designation would allow wolves to be shot on sight at any time of the year in the designated predator zone. Wyoming officials drew fire last year when hunters began gunning down wolves throughout the predator zone within days of the delisting.
Last week's delisting also covers gray wolves living in the upper Midwest, where up to 4,000 of the predators exist.
Delisting will take effect 30 days after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publish the rule in the Federal Register.
Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Montana, said the delisting will likely take effect sometime in mid to late April. That likely means hunters in Idaho and Montana will be able to hunt wolves this fall, should the delisting stand.
In a teleconference Friday, Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials said they intend to proceed with an October-to-December statewide wolf hunt. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will meet soon to set harvest numbers.
The agency has already said it intends to target up to 80 percent of the wolves in the Lolo elk zone in north-central Idaho's upper Clearwater drainage to reduce predation on the area's popular elk herd.
The Fish and Wildlife Service decided to delist wolves in Idaho and Montana because they have approved state wolf management plans in place designed to ensure the conservation of the species, a news release from the agency states. According to federal officials, there are about 95 breeding pairs and 1,600 wolves residing in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
Jason Kauffman: firstname.lastname@example.org