Four months after the government removed gray wolves from the endangered species list, a federal judge has ruled that the first hunts for them in the contiguous United States in decades can proceed.
In a decision issued late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy denied a request by environmentalists and animal rights groups to stop the hunts in Montana and Idaho.
Molloy said plans by the two states to allow hunters to kill more than 20 percent of the estimated 1,350 wolves would not cause long-term harm to the species. He said the wolf population could sustain a hunting harvest in excess of 30 percent and still bounce back.
Idaho, which introduced a wolf hunting season on Sept. 1, has a quota allowing as many as 220 wolves to be killed. Montana, whose season begins next Tuesday, has a quota of 75.
While Molloy's ruling denied an injunction that would have put a halt to this fall's hunts, it left unresolved the broader fight brought by the environmentalists in their continuing lawsuit over whether wolves should be returned to the endangered species list. The judge did say that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service appeared to have violated the Endangered Species Act when it carved Wyoming out of its decision in May to lift protections for wolves elsewhere in the Northern Rockies.
"The service has distinguished a natural population of wolves based on a political line, not the best available science," he said. "That, by definition, seems arbitrary and capricious."
That statement suggested that the environmentalists could ultimately prevail in their effort to restore the wolf's protections.
Reprinted in part from Associated Press