Just three months after U.S. Fish and Game declared wolf populations healthy enough to withstand hunting, the wolf is back under federal protection.
In a decision made July 18, Judge Donald Molloy of the U.S. District Court in Missoula, Montana responded to a suit brought by 12 conservation groups, granting a preliminary injunction that placed gray wolves in the Northern Rockies region back under federal protection until the court case challenging the removal of wolves from the federal list of endangered species is decided.
Oregon's wolves are considered part of the Northern Rockies Population.
Suzanne Asha Stone, a wolf conservation specialist for Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups battling to keep the wolf listed, called the action "an important first step."
"It stops the continued and almost indiscriminate killing of wolves under the states' management plans that could have put the long-term recovery of the wolf at risk," she said
Wolves were removed from the federal protection provided by the Endangered Species Act in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and parts of Oregon and Washington on March 28, 2008.
To obtain the injunction, the conservation groups were required to prove that they were both likely to succeed in their case for relisting and that irreparable injury was occurring to the wolves while the case made it's way through the courts.
Molloy found that "(1) the Fish & Wildlife Service acted arbitrarily in delisting the wolf despite a lack of evidence of genetic exchange between subpopulations; and (2) it acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it approved Wyoming's 2007 plan despite the State's failure to commit to managing for 15 breeding pairs and the plan's malleable trophy game area. In both instances, the Fish & Wildlife Service altered its earlier position without providing a reasoned decision for the change."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that at least 100 breeding pairs inhabit Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Other groups estimate the number at triple that or half that size - depending on their desire to either limit or increase wolf populations.
The lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Western Watersheds Project, and Wildlands Project. Defendants include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the governments of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, and livestock and trophy hunting groups.