BILLINGS – State officials sought Tuesday to revive gray wolf hunts in the Northern Rockies, even as they entered talks with environmentalists whose lawsuit restored the endangered status of the animals.
Hunters in Idaho and Montana killed 260 wolves in the first managed hunts last year after the species rebounded from near-extermination.
But this year’s hunts were doubtful after a U.S. District Court ruling.
On Tuesday, Montana asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for permission to hold “conservation hunts” this fall, said Dave Risley with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Idaho plans a similar request. Jim Unsworth of Idaho Fish and Game said the state will point to the legal harvest of other protected species such as salmon and bull trout as a precedent.
State officials said the hunts were justified as a means to curb increasingly frequent wolf attacks on livestock. It was uncertain how many animals might be harvested.
There are an estimated 1,700 wolves in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana — more than five times the federal government’s benchmark of 300 wolves for the species to be considered recovered.
Federal officials have declined to say if they would allow any public hunting while wolves remained on the endangered list. Even without hunts, wolves are killed regularly in the region by wildlife agents and ranchers responding to attacks on sheep and cattle.
Environmental groups have vowed to stop attempts to circumvent the federal court ruling. Their attorneys were meeting Tuesday with officials from Idaho and Montana and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wolves were removed from the endangered species list in Idaho and Montana in 2009 before that decision was reversed in court earlier this month.
Wyoming’s 320 wolves were not taken off the endangered list last year. Federal officials said the state’s wolf law was too hostile to the animals, allowing them to be shot on sight in a predator zone covering about 90 percent of the state.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled the government ended up violating federal law by stripping wolves of their endangered status in Idaho and Montana while portions of the population remained at risk.
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