(CN) – Let the wolf hunt continue, a federal judge in Montana ruled, rejecting calls to quash the season that began last week in Idaho and will open in parts of Montana next week. But U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy offered hope for environmentalists, questioning the government’s decision to delist gray wolves in Idaho and Montana, but not Wyoming.
The National Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups argued that the Interior Department had arbitrarily removed wolves in Montana and Idaho from the endangered species list, but not wolves Wyoming, though the wolf population migrates through all three states.
Judge Molloy in Missoula agreed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “has distinguished a natural population of wolves based on a political line, not the best available science. That, by definition, seems arbitrary and capricious.”
He added, “The plaintiffs, at this early stage, have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits.”
But Molloy declined to halt the hunts, saying the plaintiffs failed to counter evidence supporting them.
“The defendants have offered scientific evidence that no irreparable harm will occur if the 2009 wolf hunts occur in Idaho and Montana,” Molloy wrote. “Plaintiffs have failed to offer any contrary evidence.”
The government has defended its decision to keep Wyoming wolves on the endangered species list as necessary in light of the state’s management plan, which would have allowed unlimited wolf hunting in most parts of the state, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wolf hunting in Idaho began Sept. 1. Four wolves have already been taken.
The wolf quotas in both states – 75 in Montana, and 220 in Idaho – amount to about 20 percent of the animal’s population in those states.
The Montana hunt is set to begin Sept. 15.