The wolves of Greater Yellowstone and the Northern Rockies have won an important reprieve in the courts. On Thursday, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had illegally stripped the gray wolves of the northern Rockies in 2009 of their protections under the Endangered Species Act by using political, rather than scientific-based, reasoning. The judge ordered the wolves be placed back on the endangered species list, which effectively halts the hunting of wolves that was taking place in Montana and Idaho.
The ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought by The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Defenders of Wildlife and other groups, and defended by Earthjustice, a major environmental legal firm. It is a prime example of the importance of utilizing the power and effectiveness of the courts on behalf of conservation issues - as equally important a component as is generating public awareness and support.
"Yesterday's ruling will also help other wildlife because it strikes a down Bush-era policy adopted by the Obama administration allowing the government to protect only small populations of endangered species instead of the entire species. Reliance on this anti-environmental Bush policy has been one of the many low points of Interior Secretary Salazar's management of endangered species," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of CBD.
Wolves - like sharks, tigers, and other apex predators - serve an important function in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. I commented on the importance of this predator vs. prey relationship and the consequences that have transpired over the years with the on again, off again eradication of wolves. This new ruling will hopefully put the natural balance back on a steady course.
But the wolves are not totally out of the woods yet, as there are pockets of wolf populations that are at risk from reduced habitat and conflict/poaching potential with ranchers. Roger Schlickeisen, president of the Defenders of Wildlife, noted, "We must continue our on-the-ground efforts to prevent conflicts between ranchers and wolves, counter anti-wolf misinformation in the media and work with all stakeholders to ensure these wolves fully recover and can then be legitimately delisted."
Read press release from the Defenders of Wildlife.
Read article from Montana's Missoulian.