Groups Challenge Wolf Killing Plan

Conservation groups said on Jan. 24 that they will file a lawsuit in federal court immediately to block a rule by the Bush administration that will allow Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to kill most of the threatened wolves in the Northern Rockies.

The new "10(j)” rule widens a loophole in the Endangered Species Act that permits the killing of hundreds of wolves even though the animals are considered at risk of extinction. State plans to hunt, trap and shoot wolves from airplanes threaten to reverse one of the greatest wildlife recovery stories in U.S. history, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service said it will publish the rule in the Federal Register on January 28. The rule allows states to kill wolves that they believe are adversely affecting elk. But elk numbers in the region are at an all-time high. Despite this fact, the states of Wyoming and Idaho have made it clear that they intend to manage wolves at the minimum allowable level, leaving alive as few as 600 of the 1,500 wolves now living in the region. According to the rule, aerial gunning and shooting from the ground will be used to kill wolves.

The rule precedes an expected decision to remove wolves from the endangered species list next month. After that happens, wolf numbers could be reduced to as few as 300.

The reintroduction of wolves by the federal government 12 years ago has been widely hailed as a major success story. It has measurably improved the natural balance in the Northern Rockies and benefited bird, antelope and elk populations, according to NRDC. Many thousands of visitors flock to Yellowstone National Park each year to see and hear wolves in the wild, contributing at least $35 million to the local economy each year, the group said.

In revising the 10(j) rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service says it needs to make killing wolves easier to protect big game from wolf predation. However, current rules already allow wolves to be killed if the states can show that they are the "primary” cause of elk, moose and deer depletion. The new rule allows wolves to be killed anywhere big game herds are considered below desired management levels, even though studies show that elk populations are particularly high and not in jeopardy.

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