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Wyoming Wolves Getting Their Day in Court

On August 31, 2012 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) officially stripped federal protections from Wyoming’s wolves and handed management over to the state, a controversial decision, and contradiction of the agency’s stance in the past. Although USFWS had previously criticized Wyoming’s state wolf plan on the grounds that unregulated shooting in most of the state would reduce the state’s wolf population below federally required levels, the agency took a significantly altered position, announcing that these wolves no longer warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The following day, management was handed over to the state and Wyoming’s inaugural wolf hunt commenced.  

Wyoming’s wolf management plan calls for the state to:

  • Deem wolves predators in 90% of the state (all but the northwest corner of Wyoming), where they could be killed by any means, at any time, without a license.
  • In Wyoming’s northwest corner, right outside Yellowstone National Park, classify wolves as trophy game animals meaning they could only be hunted with a license.
  • Maintain only 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside of Yellowstone National Park

Two months ago, as required by the ESA, several wildlife advocacy organizations filed a notice of intent to sue the administration if it did not reconsider its decision to prematurely rescind ESA protection for wolves in Wyoming. Now the mandatory waiting period is over, Wyoming’s wolves will be getting their day in court. On November 13th, Defenders of Wildlife, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), The Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity, all represented by Earthjustice — officially filed suit in federal district court in the District of Columbia asking “the court to declare this rule illegal, and put wolves back on the endangered species list until Wyoming adopts a responsible management plan that ensures the continued survival and recovery of wolves in the region.”

Back in September, National Wolfwatcher Coalition, WildEarth Guardians, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Conservation Congress, Friends of Animals, Friends of the Clearwater, and Western Watersheds Project also filed a notice of intent to sue. So wolves will and their advocates will have their day in court, but even if victorious, how many of more Wyoming’s wolves will fall victim to the hunts that have so many hackles raised.

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