The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s target date for issuing its decision on removing wolves from the protection of the Endangered Species Act in the Northern Rockies is Feb. 28.
If they meet that date, then 30 days later, wolves would be delisted in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and northern Utah. The states would take over management and the federal government would step aside and monitor the process for the next five years.
However, environmental and animal rights groups are expected to file a lawsuit quickly, hoping to get an injunction that prevents the final action before March 28. The environmental lawyers group, Earthjustice will represent seven environmental groups including Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council the Humane Society, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and Help Our Wolves Live.
Their main case will be that the states don’t have adequate legal mechanisms in place to ensure wolves don’t become threatened or endangered again. They will suggest that the stated policies of Idaho and Wyoming are to reduce the wolf populations and that under current regulations the wolf population in the region could theoretically be reduced from 1,300 to 100.
Earthjustice already has challenged the rule chances Fish and Wildlife made official last month that will give states even more ability to kill wolves until they are delisted. I would be surprised if the case isn’t filed in Boise before U.S. District Chief Judge Chief District Judge B. Lynn Winmill.
Ironically, Earthjustice challenged the reintroduction of wolves in Idaho 13 years ago, arguing that it was illegal because of the presence of wild, native wolves in Idaho. At the time they did not challenge the reintroduction in Yellowstone despite evidence there were native wolves there too. Yellowstone's reintroduction was too popular and to the rest of the nation Idaho was simply a footnote.
They lost and the reintroduction has been heralded as one of the great environmental success stories of the 20th Century. Idaho has since become the most productive, safest place for wolves in the region in part because of its huge wilderness and roadless core.
But the delisting process has become messier thanks to the intransigence of Wyoming. Lawsuits delayed delisting in Minnesota for years despite a growing wolf population in the thousands.
The key indicator will be whether environmentalists win a restraining order that stops the delisting process. That means a judge will believe they have a good chance of eventually winning on the merits of the case.