Ruling Takes Wolf Delisting Back to Square Zero

By Beacon Staff

Last month, at a Bozeman meeting about changing the legal status of wolves to a species in need of management, only 11 citizens showed and only four said anything. Why did so few bother?

The answer came two days later, July 18. Federal judge Donald W. Molloy granted environmentalists a preliminary injunction effectively blocking removal of wolves from the endangered species list, thereby trumping the entire delisting process in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming – all of it.

If you want to suffer, you can read it at:
If you don’t, here’s my interpretation: Enviros sued on three main points: Against Wyoming’s predator zone, of course; because “the Fish & Wildlife Service [USFWS] did not consider the several states’ liberal defense of property laws;” and because the existence of “genetic exchange” to prevent future inbreeding had not been proven.
Judge Molloy’s injunction focused on genetic exchange. In sum, the northwest Montana, central Idaho and Yellowstone populations are not interbreeding, i.e., the Hatfield wolves are not marrying the McCoy wolves are not marrying the Clampett wolves, and therefore remain in danger.

In a May 9 declaration presented to Molloy’s court, famed wolf biologist L. David Mech, who has studied wolves since 1958, filed a declaration that discussed the practical effects of inbreeding:

Mech, who also specifically addressed the research upon which the Greens based their argument, wrote that while “[n]o genetically effective immigration has been found in the closed Isle Royale (IR) wolf population for 50 years,” since one female and one or two males crossed the ice, the “IR wolves look and act like any other wolves, prey successfully on one of the species’ largest prey animals, the moose (Alces alces), and survive at as high a level as any other wolf population.”

That’s not saying inbreeding is good. But game managers have means of avoiding inbreeding. On July 24 the Daily Inter Lake reported how USFWS staff had transplanted a young female grizzly from the Whitefish Range west to the Cabinet Mountains. She is the third female transported in the last few years to the Cabinets from other populations, with the idea of diversifying that gene pool. This is a second phase, after a first try in the early 1990s resulted in successful breeding by at least one female from that attempt.

I then e-mailed USFWS wolf honcho Ed Bangs asking if the law prevents game managers from moving animals around to deliberately manipulate genetic pools or populations. Bangs replied, “No, and we pointed that out” to Molloy.

So, let’s get this straight: Moving brood stock around to maintain good genetics is common, scientifically-valid practice, especially with endangered species. Further, while inbreeding is not a good thing, it’s not necessarily a disaster, as the Isle Royale wolves illustrate.

Nonetheless, Judge Molloy took great pains to lay out the precedents, especially a 2005 Ninth Circuit ruling that declared, in Endangered Species Act cases, injunctions must be granted, no matter the balance of harms, or issues of “equity,” if “irreparable injury is possible.”

Possible? Even if the odds are eighty kajillion to none? Yep. So by that infinitesimal standard, Judge Molloy enjoined the delisting and we’re all back to square zero.

As for the “merits,” the rope that hanged the USFWS is a provision in the 1994 recovery plan that called for “genetic exchange between subpopulations” of 300 wolves in 30 packs. Today we have five times that target population, but because Miss Clampett hasn’t done her thing with Mr. Hatfield (Or is that McCoy?) all bets are off.

Purists in the “conservation biology” field feel that the common practice of deliberately moving brood stock is “interfering” with natural selection, and therefore bad. In their eyes, it’s much better if a wolf “naturally” moves on its own, and rather than being killed as an intruder, mates.

Can you see where this is going? Greens do. They’re hoping Molloy gives them the ruling they’re after: If a wolf is munching your cattle, or your dogs, or your deer, tough. It maybe, might, possibly, be on its way to a hot date. And you’re screwed, too.

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