On Tuesday, a federal district court judge in Washington, DC ruled that Wyoming’s wolves be returned to federal protection, prompting wildlife officials to suspend the state’s forthcoming wolf season.
“Today, we want all wolf hunters and landowners to know that the take of wolves in Wyoming—hunting and lethal take provisions in Wyoming statute—are suspended because of the federal court ruling,” said WGFD director Scott Talbott in a statement.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the species from the Endangered Species Act in 2012, allowing a handful of states to manage wolf populations with hunting seasons. This quickly became a source of heated debate between hunters and animal rights activists, and in states like Michigan, both sides have introduced citizen-initiated proposals to either halt or protect the wolf harvest. This week’s ruling by Judge Amy Jackson was squarely in the favor of animal rights groups.
“The court has ruled and Wyoming’s kill-on-sight approach to wolf management throughout much of the state must stop,” Tim Preso, an attorney working for the plaintiffs, declared in a press release. “Today’s ruling restores much-needed federal protection to wolves throughout Wyoming, which allowed killing along the borders of Yellowstone National Park and throughout national forest lands south of Jackson Hole where wolves were treated as vermin under state management. If Wyoming wants to resume management of wolves, it must develop a legitimate conservation plan that ensures a vibrant wolf population in the Northern Rockies.”
The case was brought by Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. These organizations have long criticized Wyoming’s wolf hunt, which would formally open for the third time October 1. The lawsuit specifically targeted what the plaintiffs described as “unlimited wolf killing” in predator zones, and so-called inadequate protection for wolves where hunting is regulated. The lawsuit also claims that 219 wolves have been killed in Wyoming since the state opened wolf hunting seasons in 2012, and that the state has a history of “hostile and extreme anti-wolf policies.”
The ruling was not well received by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which defended its fledgling wolf program.
“The Game and Fish Department believes in our sound management of wolves over the last two years,” Talbott said.
The sale of gray wolf licenses has been suspended and the agency is currently working to refund hunters who have already purchased a license for the upcoming season. The ruling will also likely affect year-round hunting in predator zones and kills made by residents protecting livestock and pets.
“There are many positives in Judge Jackson’s decision. However, she held that Wyoming’s plan was not sufficiently formalized to support the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2012 rule allowing limited take of gray wolves. We believe an emergency rule can remedy this, and I have instructed the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Attorney General to proceed accordingly,” Governor Matt Mead said.
The state will likely file a motion to stay the decision later this week.
Image courtesy Barry O'Neill/National Park Service