North American Grey Wolf
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A collection of environmental groups filed a new petition today asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to instate immediate federal protections for Northern Rockies wolves, saying aggressive management measures in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming amount to the “unlimited and unregulated taking of wolves” and run counter to a commitment the agency made in 2009 when it lifted federal protections from Northern Rockies wolves.

“Idaho’s new law allows hunters, trappers and private contractors to kill wolves year-round, at any age and with no limits. Montana’s new rules allow the killing [of] approximately 85% of the wolf population and has a disproportionate impact to wolves from Yellowstone National Park, where they are habituated to seeing people almost daily and have little to no fear associated with humans, when they leave the protection of the park boundary,” the petition reads.

The petitioners say Idaho’s “campaign to eradicate its wolf population” has “resulted in a renewed persecution of a keystone species in the region’s ecosystem.” They also take issue with how people are allowed to kill wolves in the state — using snares, night hunting, hounds, bounties and state contractors — and the lack of laws barring hunters from killing pups in dens.

The groups say the number of wolves being killed in Idaho is high enough to cause a population decline “to levels that may lead to the swift extirpation of wolves in Idaho,” and that reimbursements paid to hunters and trappers, who can receive up to $2,500 per wolf killed in some areas, are reminiscent of one of the “main mechanisms through which wolves were eradicated from Idaho to begin with.”

“[Interior] Secretary [Deb] Haaland and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must follow through on their commitment and responsibility to the conservation of wolves in the Northern Rockies,” Suzanne Asha Stone, executive director of the International Wildlife Coexistence Network, said in an emailed statement. “This is an emergency. Hundreds of wolves have already died, and the next targets will be pups that will be born in April. This is not hunting: Idaho is implementing widespread extermination tactics while claiming that the population is unaffected.”

In its dissection of wolf management in Montana, the groups paid particular attention to the increased killing of wolves in hunting units immediately north of Yellowstone National Park. The park service now considers one pack, the Phantom Lake Pack, to be “eliminated” after seven of its members were killed in one of the management units north of Yellowstone. In early January, the Associated Press reported that 20 wolves that lived primarily within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park had been killed by hunters and trappers in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, most of them in Montana.

 “Secretary Haaland and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must follow through on their commitment and responsibility to the conservation of wolves in the Northern Rockies.”

Suzanne Asha Stone, executive director of the International Wildlife Coexistence Network

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks halted wolf hunting and trapping in southwest Montana’s Region Three on Feb. 17 following the state Fish and Wildlife Commission’s decision to close the season once 82 wolves had been killed, a threshold the commission codified last summer when it established wolf hunting regulations for the 2021-2022 season. 

The actual wolf harvest in Region Three exceeded that threshold: 86 wolves were killed by hunters and trappers in southwest Montana, the petitioners say. (According to FWP’s wolf harvest dashboard, 85 wolves have been killed in Region 3. The difference in totals could be due to the fact that some wolf management units span two regions.) As of Tuesday afternoon, 252 wolves have been killed statewide. Montana’s hunting and trapping season is set to close March 15

USFWS and FWP did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday afternoon. 

Signatories to the petition include International Wildlife Coexistence Network, Western Watersheds Coalition, WildEarth Guardians, Endangered Species Coalition, Wyoming Untrapped, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, 06 Legacy and Center for a Humane Economy.

More than six dozen other organizations have petitioned USFWS to relist wolves as a protected species within the past year. Last September, the agency announced it would initiate a status review of the species after considering two petitions seeking emergency relisting received earlier in the year, one dated May 26, and another dated July 29. That review is expected to conclude this summer.

In a Feb. 7 USA Today editorial, Haaland said she “is committed to ensuring that wolves have the conservation they need to survive and thrive in the wild based on science and law” and is also “committed to keeping communities safe and reducing conflict with ranchers.”

Haaland noted the agency’s alarm at reports of wolves being killed once they set foot outside of Yellowstone National Park boundaries and said the Interior Department has “communicated to state officials that these kinds of actions jeopardize the decades of federal and state partnerships that successfully recovered gray wolves in the northern Rockies.”

Haaland said USFWS will “reinstate federal protections under the Endangered Species Act for the northern Rocky Mountains’ gray wolf, if necessary,” and noted that the agency has the ability to instate temporary protections for 240 days “if science indicates that there is an emergency posing a significant risk to the well-being of the species.”

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Amanda Eggert studied print journalism at the University of Montana. Prior to becoming a full-time journalist, Amanda spent four years working with the Forest Service as a wildland firefighter. After leaving the Forest Service in 2014, Amanda worked for Outside magazine as an editorial fellow before joining Outlaw Partners’ staff to lead coverage for Explore Big Sky newspaper and contribute writing and editing to Explore Yellowstone and Mountain Outlaw magazines. Prior to joining Montana Free Press’ staff in 2021 Amanda was a freelance writer, researcher and interviewer. In addition to writing...