U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy heard arguments Tuesday on whether gray wolves in Montana and Idaho should be protected once more under the Endangered Species Act.
Animal rights activists sued the federal government after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) named wolves in the Northern Rockies a distinct population segment and removed them from the endangered species list in April 2009. The FWS turned wolf management over to Montana and Idaho wildlife officials but left federal endangered species protection in place for wolves in Wyoming.
The animal rights groups are contesting whether the government should be able to split the level of protection between the states. They content that the entire Northern Rockies population segment must be listed as endangered if a portion is considered endangered. They are also challenging how the FWS determined its minimum recovery population - at least 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs in each of the three states - and the biology behind how the wolf population should be distributed among those states.
At the end of 2009, there were at least 843 wolves in Idaho, 524 in Montana and 320 in Wyoming, with more in parts of Oregon and Washington.
Both sides say Molloy's decision could shape whether the government can use political considerations, such as state laws and boundaries, in choosing how and where a species can be listed under the federal wildlife protection law.
Both sides are asking Molloy to grant a summary judgment, which could end the court case before it goes to trial. Molloy said he will make a ruling "as quickly as I can."
Reprinted in part from Associated Press