Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) erred when they required the state of Wyoming to designate wolves as trophy game throughout the state, a U.S. District Court Judge ruled Thursday.
In a 104-page decision, Judge Alan B. Johnson out of Cheyenne said Wyoming's wolf management plan, which designated wolves as predators in most of Wyoming and trophy game in the state's northwest corner, is adequate. Johnson ordered the USFWS to revisit its rejection of the plan.
"There is no scientific or commercial data that suggest the state's dual classification of wolves, in and of itself, cannot meet, accomplish and maintain the identified recovery goals in the greater Yellowstone area, including northwestern Wyoming," Johnson wrote in the decision.
Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula, Mont., issued a ruling that put wolves in Idaho and Montana back on the Endangered Species List. In his ruling, Molloy said the federal government could not delist wolves in Idaho and Montana and keep them listed in Wyoming. He alluded to his own 2008 decision that found "Wyoming's regulations were deficient and there was insufficient proof of adequate genetic exchange."
Johnson's ruling contradicts Molloy's comments about Wyoming's state plan. The State of Wyoming, Park County and the Wyoming Wolf Coalition sued the USFWS for rejecting Wyoming's management strategy.
"The petitioners contend that the USFWS allowed political and public relations considerations and speculative concerns about post-delisting lawsuits to influence its decision, even though the USFWS' own biologists and an independent panel of peer-review biologists believed that classifying wolves as predators throughout most of Wyoming would not threaten the viability of the gray wolf population in the Northern Rocky Mountain region," Johnson wrote.
Johnson's comments echo a study conducted by wolf researchers working around the region who showed that wolves in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana are genetically healthy and have successfully migrated and bred among subpopulations in central Idaho, the greater Yellowstone area and northern Montana. The study was conducted from reintroduction in 1995 to 2004.
The regional wolf population has grown from roughly 60 animals in 1995 to more than 1,700 as of late last year.
"This is a tremendous victory for livestock producers in Wyoming but also for our sportsmen and our large ungulate populations that are the envy of the world," said Bryce Reece, executive vice president of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association. "Wyoming developed a science-based management plan that works for wildlife (including wolves) as well as for the other interests that can and are impacted by the introduction of these predators, and then we stuck to it."
"There is no indication that lack of genetic connectivity and diversity would cause the wolf population in the Greater Yellowstone Area to become threatened in the foreseeable future," Johnson ruled. "All materials in the record indicate that genetic connectivity would not likely be reduced in any manner anywhere from 60 to 100 years."
It is now up to the USFWS to determine if they will appeal the decision. If they appeal, the case would go before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Reprinted in part from Jackson Hole Daily