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Gray Wolf Endangered
This photo provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service shows a gray wolf (AP Photo)

The gray wolf population of the Northern Rockies needs to be controlled. While many Montanans appreciate the restoration of this native species to Yellowstone Country and wilderness in the vicinity of Glacier National Park, they understand that this predator must be managed to reduce conflicts with livestock and people who populate the rest of our great state.

Thus, it was a setback to Montana’s efforts at balancing wolf and prey populations last week when U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula put gray wolves back on the endangered species list in Montana. Molloy found that de-listing wolves in Montana and Idaho was illegal because wolves in part of the same region (Wyoming) are still endangered.

Molloy’s ruling that the two-state de-listing “may be a pragmatic solution” but isn’t legal apparently spurred U.S. Sen. Max Baucus to propose changing the law: “When Congress returns next month, I plan to introduce legislation that puts wolves under Montana’s management,” Baucus said in a statement Friday.

Montana’s congressional delegation was unanimous in its disapproval of Molloy’s ruling.

“This decision misses the mark,” Sen. Jon Tester said.

“Gray wolves are a recovered species and ready for responsible state management,” Rep. Denny Rehberg said.

Rehberg’s Democratic opponent in the November election, Dennis McDonald promised to introduce legislation “requiring wolf management to be the exclusive jurisdiction of the states.”

The politicians have come down on the side of common sense on the wolf issue.

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With more than 1,700 wolves in the Northern Rockies, some wolves must be eliminated to keep the population from devastating other wild and domestic animal populations. For example, if Montana and Idaho game agencies aren’t allowed to hold wolf hunts, federal exterminators will have to kill more wolves.

Molloy’s ruling basically negates the hard work that Montana and Idaho have done to comply with federal requirements. State management allows the wolves to be protected while protecting other interests with strategies that work in Montana.

A puzzling aspect of Molloy’s ruling is the timing, coming just days before a scheduled meeting between the private wildlife protection organizations that sued and the government agencies that defend de-listing. That meeting, set for Helena Wednesday to discuss settlement possibilities, was scuttled when the judge ruled. There’s talk of appealing and of focusing on changing Wyoming’s wolf plan. Meanwhile, the state of Wyoming’s lawsuit defending its plan is pending in another U.S. District Court.

All this litigation hasn’t brought diverse interests any closer to resolving urgent wolf issues. Baucus is right. The law should be changed so that wolf management can be both legal and sensible.

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