Groups sue to restore endangered species protection for US northern Rockies wolves

CHEYENNE, Wyoming. — Six conservation groups have filed a lawsuit challenging a recent federal decision not to protect wolves in the northern U.S. Rocky Mountain region under the Endangered Species Act, arguing that states are overusing their discretion to minimize the number of predators.

The groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the agencies’ directors in federal court in Missoula, Montana, on July 2.

The lawsuit follows a ruling by the Fish and Wildlife Service decision in February to deny conservationists’ requests to restore protections for endangered species in the region. Wolves are not in danger of extinction as states try reduce their numbers through hunting, the agency discovered.

At the same time, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it would develop its first-ever national wolf recovery plan, with a target date of December 2025. Previously, the Fish and Wildlife Service had taken a region-by-region approach to wolf management.

The decision not to return wolves to endangered status in the region violates the Endangered Species Act by failing to properly assess the threats to wolves and relying on the best available science about the animals, the six organizations wrote in their lawsuit.

The lawsuit criticizes state wolf management programs in the region. Montana and Idaho plan to drastically reduce wolf numbers, while Wyoming allows wolves to be killed outside of a designated hunting area using various methods, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit detailed how a Wyoming man hit a wolf on a snowmobile last winter, taped its mouth shut and took it to a bar before killing it. The killing drew broad condemnation but only a $250 fine for illegally possessing wildlife under Wyoming law.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit filed by Animal Wellness Action; the Center for a Humane Economy; Project Coyote, a project of the Earth Island Institute Inc.; the Kettle Range Conservation Group; Footloose Montana; and the Gallatin Wildlife Association.

“The Rocky Mountain states have liberalized the legal killing of wolves and also revoked the discretion of their fisheries and wildlife agencies, allowing lawmakers to get away with unleashing relentless campaigns to kill wolves by virtually any means necessary,” Kate Chupka Schultz, senior attorney for Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy, said in a statement.

Wolves have been protected as endangered in the region intermittently since their initial delisting in 2008. They were first listed in 1974, and populations were successfully reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and Idaho in the mid-1990s.

Since 2017, they are no longer on the federal endangered species list in the northern US Rocky Mountains.

The rejection of the conservation groups’ petitions to re-register wolves in February allowed state-run wolf hunts to continue in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Wolves also roam parts of California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

An estimated 2,800 wolves live in the seven states.