LANDER, Wyo. – The state of Wyoming is challenging a request from environmental groups seeking to reinstate federal protection for gray wolves.
Wyoming has intervened as a defendant in the lawsuit filed by environmental groups opposed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision to remove wolves from protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
In papers filed in court on Friday, Wyoming states that the groups’ lawsuit offers only “speculative worst case scenarios” and provides no reason to justify reinstating federal protections.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy denied request by the federal government to delay a hearing on the environmental groups request for an injunction. Saying he’s “unwilling to risk more deaths,” the judge set a hearing on the request for May 29 in Missoula, Mont.
Wyoming argues in its court filing that the request to reinstate federal protections for wolves is based on unproven beliefs and conjecture and not on sound science.
The state argues the environmentalists are attempting, “to convince this Court that the wolf population (in the Northern Rockies) might be in peril at some unspecified time in the future.” Wyoming Deputy Attorney General Jay Jerde stated that, “nothing could be further from the truth.”
Wyoming stated that it’s irrefutable that “a moderate amount of human-caused mortality in any given year will not cause a decrease in the wolf population in Wyoming or the (Northern Rockies).”
Wyoming’s wolf management plan specifies that wolves may be shot on sight as predators in most of the state while licensed hunters could kill them as trophy game in the northeastern corner of the state. No hunting is allowed in national parks.
At least 40 wolves have been killed in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana since the animals lost federal protections in March. According to Wyoming’s court documents, 19 wolves have been killed in that state since protections were listed in March.
Wyoming noted that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2007 killed 63 wolves in response to livestock depredations. Nonetheless, it stated that the wolf population still increased from 311 to 359 wolves that year.
And Wyoming stated that while 23 percent of the total population of wolves in the Northern Rockies has died on average over the last 14 years, the wolf population has increased by 24 percent per year over that same period.
In Friday’s filing, Wyoming also challenged the environmentalists’ assertion that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to consider “the best science available” when it decided to delist wolves. The injunction request argues that studies indicate that at least 2,000 to 3,000 wolves in genetically interconnected populations would be required in order to protect against inbreeding in the long term.
Wyoming argues that the federal agency did consider the main scientific study cited by the conservation organizations. It states that the lawsuit is merely offering “a conflicting interpretation of the study.”
Franz Camenzind is a biologist and head of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance — one of the organizations challenging the delisting decision. He said Wyoming’s arguments were anticipated by all the parties in the case.
“We have to remember that this (lawsuit) isn’t just targeting Wyoming. We’re just as concerned about what’s happening in Idaho,” Camenzind said. “At the end of the day, this will be decided in the courts, not in the press.”
As for the state’s claims that the wolf population is in no danger of declining, Camenzind said there are no assurances built into Wyoming’s wolf management plan that there won’t be a drastic falloff in the coming years.
Camenzind also said that the scientific claims made by the conservation groups should not be dismissed as the state suggests.
“In the long term, we do believe the peer-reviewed genetic studies make a clear case for having as many or more wolves than we have now,” Camenzind said. “And not only more animals, but genetic connectivity between them, which up until now there is no evidence of it having occurred.”
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