RMEF Again Calls For Wolf Delisting; WDFW Supportive Of Resolution Pressing For Same

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is using recently released herd-count numbers to renew the call for Congress to delist wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains.

A pair of bills introduced in the House and Senate, HR 509 and S 249, hold the “best promise,” the Missoula-based group says.

“Both bills would end the ridiculous lawsuits that are preventing a fully recovered species from being managed by conservation professionals,” said RMEF president David Allen in a press release today.

He pointed to the recently completed Northern Yellowstone elk herd count. It dipped by 24 percent over the last year, from roughly 6,000 animals to 4,635, and is down 70 percent since wolves were reintroduced there in 1995, according to the state and national Northern Yellowstone Cooperative Wildlife Working Group.

The group blamed “increased predation, ongoing drought, and hunting pressure” for the 15-year decline.

RMEF says that moose herds are way down too.

Wolf numbers have also dropped precipitously in the area since 2007, the working group reported as well.

Wolves are listed as threatened throughout Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and eastern sections of Washington and Oregon, though their overall population is well above federal recovery goals, and have been since 2002, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Final 2010 wolf counts won’t be out until early to mid-March, according to the USFWS’s wolf recovery coordinator Ed Bangs, but preliminary indications are that Wyoming’s population rose while Montana’s appears to have decreased.

Oregon’s has risen, but it’s unclear where Washington’s stands.

After being delisted for a year and a quarter, a federal court decision last summer put management of the packs back in the fed’s hands, and that’s led to discontent amongst members of the Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies.

At a conference in Tucson last month, member states stood shoulder to shoulder in passing a resolution that “supports and endorses immediate delisting of gray wolves in the WAFWA member states from the ESA, either through legislative or administrative means, and that this species be managed by the respective State wildlife agencies.”

The vote was 17-0 with Montana abstaining.

WDFW was among those agencies voting to approve the resolution, though not until it was amended to support delisting the entire region’s wolf population, not just Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, according to Bob Everitt, who represented WDFW Director Phil Anderson at the meeting.

He termed a partial delisting “a recipe for big problems in border states,” and indeed, U.S. District Court Judge Molloy’s ruling last August was basically that wolves couldn’t be managed by Montana and Idaho but by USFWS in Wyoming, and which kick-started the latest moves by legislators to circumvent ESA.

“Our management plan fits our position on this resolution,” Everitt says. “What we’d like to see is the far eastern part of the state managed as its own population. That’s something we’ve wanted anyway. It’s not a departure from where we were headed.”

The western border of the Northern Rockies distinct population in Washington is roughly Highway 97.

ODFW’s rep voted in favor of the resolution as well.

Everitt calls it a “blunt tool,” but, sitting next to Idaho Fish & Game’s director at the meeting, says it reflects how the core states feel about wolf management.

Although his agency abstained, in a Jan. 21 letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, WAFWA president Joe Maurier wrote:

Given the Association’s long history and stellar conservation record, the resolution – in sum – reflects the all too common and unacceptable level of frustration that directors are currently experiencing when it comes to the status of the gray wolf in the West. It is the sincere hope of our member agencies that a way forward can be found, and found very soon – one that removes ESA protection for the gray wolf and returns management to the respective States.

Everitt cautioned about reading too much into WDFW’s vote.

While Washington is a “peripheral player … the intent is to signal to the Feds that this is a big deal in the West and we want to move.”

In response to HR 509, Rodger Schlickeisen of Defenders of Wildlife said in a press release it would “set a terrible precedent that will open the floodgates to legislation to strip protections for any other species that a politician finds inconvenient to protect.”

The full text of the resolution is:

WESTERN ASSOCIATION OF FISH AND WILDLIFE AGENCIES DELIST THE GRAY WOLF AND RESTORE MANAGEMENT TO THE STATES WHEREAS, the northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segment of gray wolves exceeded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery level of thirty or more breeding pairs in 2002; and

WHEREAS, population estimates as of 2009 include at least 1,700 animals well distributed among Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming; and

WHEREAS, the remarkable increase in gray wolf populations was only possible because of the historic management and stewardship of ungulates by state fish and wildlife agencies; and

WHEREAS, a primary purpose of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is to “provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species, and to take such steps as may be appropriate to achieve the purposes of the treaties and conventions set forth in subsection (a) of this section.”; and

WHEREAS, the primary purpose of the ESA has clearly been achieved for the gray wolf, and gray wolves have recovered in the States of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming; and

WHEREAS, a lack of delisting, given the species has met recovery goals, can result in an erosion of public acceptance of wolves and the ESA; and

WHEREAS, State wildlife agencies are the competent authorities to manage resident species for their sustained use and enjoyment; and

WHEREAS, the overall aim of the ESA is to recover species such that the species can be managed by the appropriate entity. State wildlife agencies are the appropriate entities to assume management of the gray wolf as a resident species; and

WHEREAS, delays in federal decision-making, induced partly by citizen-suit litigation over virtually all aspects of Mexican gray wolf recovery, have, after 34 years of protection under the ESA, including 12 years of reintroduction efforts, resulted in failure to recover the Mexican gray wolf; and

WHEREAS, the States of Arizona and New Mexico, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, various local governments and local stakeholders are willing and able to use incentives and interdiction measures without being encumbered by the gridlock resulting from federal listing, to increase the Mexican gray wolf population to levels in both states that, coupled with conservation efforts in Mexico, would establish and maintain a rangewide population of Mexican gray wolves that is self-sustaining and managed at levels sufficient to meet scientifically-valid population objectives.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies supports and endorses immediate delisting of gray wolves in the WAFWA member states from the ESA, either through legislative or administrative means, and that this species be managed by the respective State wildlife agencies.

Adopted in Convention
Tucson, Arizona
January 9, 2011

Currently, Washington wolf monitoring is being paid for through federal State Wildlife Grants, which come from offshore oil lease royalties, and revenues from some vanity plates.

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