A federal judge in Montana is expected to rule later in the year on whether Canadian gray wolves should be returned to the Endangered Species List (ESL) in Idaho and Montana, or if those states will be allowed to continue managing the wolves under their own established guidelines. Whether wolf hunting will be allowed in Idaho and Montana this year hangs in the balance.
Lawyers for both sides of the issue testified before Judge Donald Molloy in Bozeman Tuesday. According to the Associated Press and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, attorneys for wolf advocacy groups including Defenders of Wildlife and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition argued that the estimated wolf population numbers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) were too low to consider the species “recovered,” and rather than looking at the wolf population on a state-by-state basis, the entire region’s population should be the deciding number.
USFWS estimates there are 843 Canadian gray wolves in Idaho, 524 in Montana, 320 in Wyoming, and scattered numbers in Washington and Oregon. The estimate for the total population in the Northern Rockies is over 1,700.
A USFWS official in Montana said those numbers are adequate to consider wolves recovered in Idaho and Montana, and those states should be allowed to continue managing them on their own terms. After wolves were de-listed in 2009, they were reinstated in Wyoming because Molloy ruled that state’s management plan didn’t provide enough protection for the wolves.
Both sides are asking Molloy for a summary judgment on the matter, which would mean the case wouldn’t have to go to trial.
State management led to wolf hunting seasons in Idaho and Montana last year; 185 wolves were harvested in Idaho and another 73 were harvested in Montana. Both states are said to be considering expanded quotas if allowed to conduct a wolf season this year.
A spokesman for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game told IdahoReporter.com that the department would not be releasing a statement on Tuesday’s hearing. The USFWS regional office in Colorado is also not expected to comment.