A court decision handed down Friday that has wolves headed for management by the state of Wyoming has spurred a flurry of praise and condemnation.

The U.S. appeals court ruling is a major step toward removing wolves in Wyoming from the Endangered Species Act list. The original 2012 ruling that had the wolves bound for delisting was held up by a 2014 ruling that said the plan to give Wyoming control over wolf management was flawed because the rules were administrative rather than included in statute.

Friday’s decision was hailed by Gov. Matt Mead and by the state’s two U.S. senators and lone member of the U.S. House. All are Republicans.

The ruling was criticized by environmental groups.

Mead called the ruling “the right decision for wolves and Wyoming” and said he was “pleased” with the turnaround.

Even more enthusiastic was Rep. Liz Cheney, a Jackson Hole resident. She said the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals “righted a wrong for Wyoming today.”

“This ruling nullifies the lower court’s decision ... and reaffirms Wyoming’s authority to manage our gray wolf population,” Cheney said in a statement. “While this ruling is welcome news to Wyoming, the long and drawn-out process has highlighted why Endangered Species Act reforms are so badly needed.”

Cheney said “sound science, not the courts, should decide when a species is recovered.”

Sen. Mike Enzi called the ruling “a win for Wyoming and all those who have worked so hard to return management of the gray wolf to the state.”

Sen. John Barrasso said that the state’s management plan was adequate and also that state control was in keeping with his support for local government authority.

“I am pleased that the court agrees that the wolf has recovered enough to be removed from the endangered species list,” the junior senator said. “As a result of this ruling the state’s wolves will be under the control of Wyoming, not Washington.”

The reaction among environmental groups was different, especially given that final delisting will allow the state to resume wolf hunting everywhere in the state outside the national parks. The wolf hunting system, in effect for two years before the 2014 decision, regulated hunting in areas in northwest Wyoming while categorizing wolves as predators that could be shot on sight at any time in 80 percent of the state.

“Wyoming’s plan to shoot wolves on sight throughout most of the state was a bad idea when it was proposed, and it’s a bad idea now,” said Rebecca Riley, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The court’s decision to lift federal protections for wolves in Wyoming will be a step backwards for wolf recovery in the West.”

The lead attorney in the case for Earthjustice, Timothy Preso, spoke against the ruling on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States and the Fund for Animals.

“We are disappointed in the court’s ruling,” Preso said. “We will continue to fight to protect wolves against extreme and hostile state management policies.”

The fight against the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and disputes about managing them outside the parks have been a central part in battles about local control versus federal control of land and wildlife. The wolf debate has also become the main focus in the battle over the Endangered Species Act, which Republicans have campaigned to cut back.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined in 2001 that gray wolves were no longer a threatened species in Wyoming. State officials pledged to maintain at least 100 wolves, including 10 breeding pairs, outside Yellowstone and the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Gray wolves, once hunted to near extinction in the Lower 48 states, now number about 5,500 in the Rocky Mountain West and the upper Midwest. The population in Wyoming is estimated at about 400.

The D.C. Circuit judge who ruled Friday stayed action to give opponents a chance to appeal.

Contact Mark Huffman at 732-5907 or mark@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mark Huffman edits copy and occasionally writes some, too. He's been a journalist since newspapers had typewriters and darkrooms.

(9) comments

Jay Westemeier

There's nothing wrong with state's managing their own wolf populations as long as their plans contain responsible wildlife preservation practices. Open season hunting does NOT fall within those practices, especially with the small population density the wolf currently maintains in Wyoming. Unless changes are made to Wyoming's plan, they can expect continued litigation on the issue as well as detrimental affects to the state's reputation. Those are things Wyoming doesn't need unless their residents are happy with their antiquated, stagnated economy and social issues.

Chad guenter

There will always be wolves in the Parks/zoos, Mr. Westemeier.

Jay Westemeier

As usual, you missed my point. Obviously you must believe all states should manage wildlife utilizing lethal methods including hunting. You also must believe that our National Parks should be exclusive land locked areas for certain wildlife species. If that's your stick Mr. Guenter, let's use the Parks as an exclusive viewing area for elk. Let's put an open season on elk outside the Parks. That would eliminate brucellosis spread to the state's precious cattle and eliminate the costly need for the National Elk Refuge and other feed grounds. Selective wildlife management and preservation is not REAL wildlife management and preservation. Wyoming has never been considered a model state for either and it sounds like it never will be.

Chad guenter

It's about time!!!

Time to make a serious dent in Wyoming's wolf population!

jeff muratore

Time for wildlife professionals to manage wolves again in Wyoming.

Robert Wharff

Those who continue to claim the dual classification is wrong fail to understand Wyoming's plan. They want to infer that it calls for the wholesale slaughter of wolves. The truth is the majority of wolves reside in the Northwest part of the state. The remaining portion of was deemed socially and economically unsuitable for wolf habitat, mainly because of conflicts with existing and established practices. These dispersing wolves are wolves migrating outside the core recovery area. Since they are dispersing into an area where they aren't socially or economically suited they can be removed without the requirement of a license. The core recovery area can sustain the number of wolves required by law to satisfy the state's obligation of maintaining and sustaining a recovered population.
The real tragedy is that Wyoming has waited so long for the courts to have ruled on this topic. Wyoming should have ignored Judge Jackson's ruling in the first place. It was illegal then just as the courts have ruled now. The only difference is that Wyoming wouldn't have lost control over the wildlife it is statutorily and lawfully authorized to manage for this period of time.

Sam Lobo

RW good post, I'm proud of Wyoming for standing their ground. Reform of the Endangered Species Act is desperately needed.

DID YOU KNOW..... Wisconsin and Michigan have had 3000 Domestic animals KILLED and maimed by wolves since their return to those states.... IF WI and MI were not forced to abandon their wolf management plans developed by science because of continued lawsuits in abuse of the Endangered Species Act by these disgusting groups it is estimated that ONLY 1900 Domestic animals would have been killed and maimed by wolves! Keep in mind that the 3000 is the documented number and not even close to that actual number! These groups are responsible for AT LEAST 1100 of the most heinous deaths that could become of domestic animals.

DID YOU KNOW..... Minnesota was killing OVER 200 wolves every year to keep them out of trouble. Yup, they almost hit 300 the year before the first wolf hunt. They were killing OVER 200 PER YEAR for more than half a decade BEFORE THAT 1st Hunt ALL on the taxpayers DIME almost all done by TRAPPING. Not quite the animal that lives in harmony with people. KEEP in mind that the population of wolves in MN the year before last was only estimated at 2211 wolves and they were killing close to 300 (PER YEAR) for getting into trouble....once again that 300 is only the documented number.... Many were so disgusted because of re-accruing issues they shot wolves on site without approval of the DNR! The first year after the hunt they only had to kill 150 for getting into trouble. It is estimated that had the state stuck with the 1600 to 1700 wolves in the states science based wolf management plan only 50 wolves would have been needed to be killed for habituation and depredation. Because, the poorly worded Federal Endangered Species Act which allows ignorant and agenda driven judges to interpret “into the majority of their former range” to mean the majority of the state of Minnesota (which is certainly not good or even marginal habitat for wolves) the state of Minnesota.. (and groups like HSUS) are once again setting up these wolves for failure! ADDING an additional 500+- wolves (2211 s/b 1700) to the landscape in poorer habitat has resulted in an additional 250 +- (300 s/b 50) dead wolves.! They love to wear wolves on their sleeve in Minnesota!

DID YOU KNOW....In Idaho and Montana the August 5 2010 ruling by activist Judge Molloy created such an uproar that the Governor of MT told his ranchers to start shooting wolves and told any state employee that cooperated with a Federal agent in regard to dead wolves would no longer have a job. These groups knew that they had pushed too far with their abuse of the Endangered Species Act and 9 of the 12 groups that had their name on that law suit tried to back out and get Molloy to reverse his ruling. It took an act of congress to put an end to the abuse of the Endangered Species Act for those states! You see these groups can continue to pimp wolves without regard to common sense because Judges like Molloy interpret “into the majority of their former range” to mean the majority of states like WI MT or WA should have wolves! It is unrealistic and unattainable without irrevocable harm to wolves and their reputation to have them at levels that wolf pimps want. They do so for controversy…..controversy gets “donate now” buttons pressed and easy pickings for EAJA dollars .

Chad guenter

Great post Sam!

Jay Westemeier

Sam Hobo needs to get his facts straight. Wolves were never "returned" to Wisconsin and Michigan, so his number of domesticated animals killed by wolves in those states is bogus. Of course animals have been killed by wolves, but Hobo's statement is not based on true fact.

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