Baucus, Tester introduce bill for state control of gray wolves


by Rob Chaney

Montana's Senate delegation has introduced a new attempt to put gray wolves back under state control.

The one-paragraph bill by Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester would short-circuit a court decision by Missoula U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy that has kept wolves under federal Endangered Species Act protection in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Molloy ruled last year that wolves could not be delisted in Montana and Idaho while Wyoming was still under federal management.

"This would essentially roll back the clock to before Judge Molloy's decision," Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy said on Thursday. The bill would make the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's April 2, 2009, wolf delisting final rule permanent. In doing so, it would return wolf management decisions to the state wildlife agencies of Montana and Idaho. It would also delist gray wolves in parts of Utah, Washington and Oregon.
Montana and Idaho both ran public wolf hunts in 2009 before Molloy's 2010 ruling put the wolves back under federal management. Roughly 1,700 wolves roam the Rocky Mountains in the three states.

Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg introduced his own legislation on the wolf issue last week. His bill, which already has a Senate companion version, would remove gray wolves from Endangered Species Act supervision entirely.


Also on Thursday, the Fish and Wildlife Service also announced a draft environmental assessment approving a wolf hunt in Idaho and said it was within six weeks of answering a similar request from Montana. Baucus and Tester said they were also pressuring the service to reclassify all wolves in Montana as experimental and nonessential. Currently, wolves in the northern part of the state that migrated naturally into the area have a greater level of Endangered Species Act protection than the reintroduced populations in the southern part.

"This fall the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks requested that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant it additional biologist-conducted hunts of gray wolves," the senators wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Thursday. "Since that request, unacceptable levels of predation continue to escalate as Montana's professional wildlife managers attempt to wrangle this issue with one hand tied behind their back. 

In the meantime, ranchers and sportsmen in Montana are suffering. The Endangered Species Act allows wildlife managers the ability to control experimental gray wolf populations. We urge you to expedite the State of Montana's request to lethally take wolves in the West Fork of the Bitterroot to control unacceptable impacts to wild ungulate populations."