EQC meeting in Helena focuses on wolves
September 15, 2010
Wolves were at the top of the agenda during an Environmental Quality Council meeting in Helena on Tuesday.
The committee heard from the MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks department about current options to re-instate a wolf hunting season in Montana.
Some of the options include federal legislation, an appeal of a recent court decision, talking to plaintiffs of pending litigation, and changing federal rule-making to make wolf management more flexible.
Joe Maurier, FWP director, noted, “You know, it’s one thing at a time. We’re hoping something sticks that gives us some relief but time will tell.”
Federal legislation includes an FWP proposal to allow Congress to clarify intent regarding the Endangered Species Act and wolf management.
Maurier says U.S. Congressman Denny Rehberg is having a bill drafted to exempt wolves from the Endangered Species Act altogether.
FWP has until October 5th to appeal the court ruling that recently put the grey wolf back on the endangered species list.
FWP TAKES HEAT AT MEETING....
Recent activities by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials dealing with the return of gray wolves to the list of animals protected under federal laws came under fire Tuesday during a meeting with the state Environmental Quality Council.
While some members of the public complained that FWP had aligned itself in a coalition with 10 groups and left out other stakeholders, some council members questioned whether an appeal of the ruling that returned the wolves to the list of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act was useful.
State Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, noted that in his Aug. 5 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy only addressed one of four issues involved in the lawsuit filed by environmental groups. FWP has plans to take that issue — whether wolves can be delisted in Montana and Idaho but not in Wyoming — to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Molloy’s decision that a partial delisting wasn’t the intent of Congress when it created the Endangered Species Act put wolves back under federal protection, which limits Montana and Idaho’s ability to manage wolves, including a hunting season.
The northern Rockies are home to about 1,700 gray wolves, which is more than five times the previously set federal benchmark of 300 wolves for them to be considered a recovered species and removed from federal protection. They were most recently delisted in Montana and Idaho in 2009, but remain listed in Wyoming since it
doesn’t have a federally approved wolf management plan.
Shockley added that even if the 9th Circuit Court resolves that issue in the state’s favor, the case still would go back to Molloy to rule on whether there’s adequate connectivity and genetic exchange; whether the regulatory mechanisms in Montana and Idaho area adequate under the Endangered Species Act; and whether the recovery goal of 300 wolves is based on the best scientific data and relevance. Those issues were raised by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“Imagining you get lucky at the 9th Circuit, we come back and do part two, then win, lose or draw it’s going to go to the 9th Circuit, then we come back for part three,” Shockley said. “We have to win four out of four if the judge is not going to do them all at the same time.”
He urged FWP to pursue a statutory fix through Congress to the Endangered Species Act, which is one of the multiple tactics the state agency is undertaking.
FWP Director Joe Maurier said along with the appeal and working with Congress, the state is in discussions with representatives of the 13 environmental groups that filed the lawsuit to relist the gray wolves. He added that he can’t talk about the discussions publicly under federal law.
“The appeals court requires us to talk to the litigants. We have had one discussion and I can’t say I’m terribly optimistic. The crux of the issue, as far as I have been able to discern, is the whole issue of how many wolves,” Maurier said.
He was quick to add that any proposed resolution would be fully disclosed to the public for comment and would need the approval of the FWP Commission.
Maurier said another problem they’re facing is that Montana and Idaho don’t know if the federal Department of Interior — the main defendant in the case — is going to be part of the appeal, and that creates an uphill battle for the states. He noted that the state has sent letters to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, but they haven’t heard back as to whether they’ll join in the appeal.
“Basically, we don’t want to be standing there naked as states before the judge and not have the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service standing beside us on an appeal,” Maurier said. “If it’s just the states, I’m not sure the justices are not going to say ‘Where is the main defendant?’”
Steve Dougherty, a former state senator and current senior adviser to Salazar, said he can’t answer the question about legal collaboration just yet, but added that they’re involved in the state’s discussions with the litigants.
“The decision hasn’t been made whether there will be an appeal by the Department of Interior. I’m learning it’s not just a Department of Interior decision, but also the Department of Justice,” Dougherty said.
DOJ weighs the likelihood of success and the implications as far as the rest of the country is concerned, he said.
Still, he pledged to learn why the state hasn’t heard back from federal officials regarding a request under that Endangered Species Act that would allow for a special wolf hunt this year or next. FWP officials had asked for a decision by Sept. 10.
“I will also tell you the department is committed to finding a way out of this thicket and examining every possible option, and giving them a good, hard, decent look to see if it’s possible to do,” Dougherty said.
Yet it’s not only the legal arena where FWP was criticized. James St. Goddard, a Blackfeet tribal leader, said they weren’t consulted about the future of wolves in Montana, while the state recently formed an alliance with 10 stock growers, livestock producers and sportsmen’s groups to provide a united front regarding wolf management in Montana, including the wolf hunt.
St. Goddard, though, questioned whether a hunt, or even an appeal, is necessary and asked the state to work with the tribes to learn “better protection of the sacred animals.”
“Tribal consultation needs to happen. You talk about equal opinions of the opposition being part of this, but we haven’t been part of this,” St. Goddard said. “I come here as a traditional man to speak. Is it important to kill grizzly and buffalo and wolves so we can all make money? … The wolf is crying out but nobody hears him. All we hear is the rattle of the money — more cattle, more cattle. You know how to do that. Bring us to those wolves. Let us show you what to do.”
Jerry Black of Missoula added that the state wasn’t including wildlife watchers or non-consumptive groups in the state in their coalition.
“That coalition should be renamed Montanans for cattle and hunting,” Black said. “That’s what it looks like from someone like me who’s been cut out from discussions.”