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Conservationists push feds to up protections for gray wolves in Rockies

The latest in the saga to bolster federal protections for the gray wolf comes after the Biden administration missed a deadline to determine if the species should be relisted under the Endangered Species Act.

(CN) — Conservationists have once again taken the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to court over the feds failing to restore endangered species protections for wolves that advocates say are being eradicated from the American Northwest.

In a petition filed Tuesday morning by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Sierra Club, the groups claim laws passed by Idaho and Montana this past year have allowed for new and aggressive wolf-killing measures that are putting the pressure on a historically threatened species. Though gray wolves were first added to the endangered list in the 1970s, conservationists have been fighting to have their spot restored after the Trump administration booted wolves in the lower 48 from the list.

“Because Idaho and Montana are hellbent on eradicating wolves from their states, these animals desperately need federal protection now,” Andrea Zaccardi, a legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement announcing Tuesday's petition. “The Fish and Wildlife Service can’t stand idly by while these states let hunters and trappers kill hundreds of wolves every year.”

This is not the first time environmental groups have targeted state laws as being the driver behind the wolf population decline. Advocates have pointed to Idaho allowing private contractors to kill wolves while hunters do not have a cap on how many wolves they are allowed to hunt. Idaho has also given its hunters permission to use ATVs and even hounds to bring the wolves down.

The petitioners say the situation is no better in Montana. Hunters there can use devices like spotlights and nightscopes on private land, can use bait to lure wolves, and the state recently passed laws that extended the wolf-trapping season by a month.

“These aggressive new wolf-killing laws in Montana and Idaho allow virtual eradication of northern Rockies gray wolves and set recovery efforts back by decades,” said Bonnie Rice, a senior representative of the Sierra Club.

Conservationists say their suit was spurred by Fish and Wildlife missing a crucial deadline for wolf protections.

In May 2021, advocates petitioned the Biden administration to restore federal protections to gray wolves, a move that prompted the feds to acknowledge that state laws allowing for increased wolf-killing might be sending their population spiraling.  In September 2021, Fish and Wildlife released some initial findings saying that they would look into the issue, but environmentalists say they’ve seen no action since. Federal law says government agencies have a year to issue a final decision after receiving a petition, a deadline the Fish and Wildlife Service has now blown past.

The Biden administration’s history with the federal wolf protection issue has left some to question what the administration’s stance on the issue actually is. Last fall Gary Frazer, Fish and Wildlife’s assistant director for ecological services, stood behind Trump’s move to delist wolves, saying that the decision had actually been in the works for years. Frazer then recognized, however, that new laws from the states were potentially “concerning” and that the Biden team would be watching the issue closely moving forward.

Tracie Letterman, vice president of federal affairs at the Humane Society Legislative Fund, says the president has voiced concern for wolves in the past but that it is time to turn those concerns into action.

“President Biden once proclaimed that his grandkids were worried about the fate of wolves,” Letterman said. “That concern is well-founded due to extreme wolf-killing laws in Idaho and Montana. The science shows that gray wolves in the northern Rockies need federal protections as mandated under the Endangered Species Act and the Fish and Wildlife Service must act quickly to establish those protections — not just for President’s Biden’s grandkids, but for all Americans.”

With the autumn wolf-hunting and trapping season set to get underway soon, environmentalists have asked a judge to set a final date for the feds to make a decision on whether to relist the wolves.

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