Northern Rockies Wolf Settlement
Message from the President of Defenders
Dear fellow Defenders of Wildlife,
Defenders of Wildlife
Since last fall, it has become increasingly likely that Congress would pass legislation that would be disastrous for wolves and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Although Defenders has steadfastly opposed that legislation, we became convinced that the only real hope of stopping it was to reach a settlement of the litigation we brought in 2009 successfully challenging Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s illegal decision to remove federal protection from wolves in the Northern Rockies.
Accordingly, on March 18, 2011, we joined with nine other conservation organizations in filing with the U.S. District Court in Montana a settlement agreement we negotiated with the Interior Department. Like any settlement agreement, this one is a compromise, but one that we are convinced was necessary to help avert what could easily be the most disastrous assault on the ESA since that monumental law took effect nearly four decades ago. We are also convinced that, if the agreement is approved by the court and all parties live up to their responsibilities, it will provide a path in which wolves will continue to recover in the Northern Rockies and science, not politics, will prevail.
Whatever happens now, we will continue to lead the effort both for wolves and the ESA going forward. Below you will find more detailed answers to questions about the settlement and what our next steps will be to ensure the long-term future of wolves across the Northern Rockies.
All of us at Defenders of Wildlife are extremely grateful for your continued support in our ongoing efforts to save America’s wolves.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Settlement
Why are you settling?
As we entered the current congressional session, the politics surrounding this issue could not have been worse. Since August 2010, when a Montana federal court restored ESA protections for wolves across the Northern Rockies, anti-wolf sentiment in the region has continued to grow. In particular, anti-wolf extremists have provoked political responses from state governors and the Idaho and Montana congressional delegations, including federal legislation to permanently remove Northern Rockies wolves from the protection of the ESA.
Though we were able to block bad wolf bills last session, pressure continues to mount in Congress to resolve the issue through legislation. Barring some alternative resolution of the controversy, wolf delisting language would almost certainly be included in any final bill to fund the federal government this year. In an effort to avert damaging legislation that would not only be very harmful to wolves but would establish a very dangerous precedent of political interference with species protection under the ESA, Defenders pursued a settlement agreement with the Interior Department that will allow for wolf recovery to continue and eliminate the rationale for legislation delisting wolves.
What would happen if Defenders didn’t settle?
At the very least, we would expect Congress to pass legislation that would reinstate the same 2009 wolf delisting rule that was struck down twice by the courts, allowing Idaho and Montana to resume killing wolves without any additional scientific safeguards to ensure the long-term survival of the species and without any legal recourse against it. If that’s not bad enough, other bills have been introduced that seek to permanently delist wolves throughout the Northern Rockies, including Wyoming, and throughout the entire lower 48 states. This means wolves in Washington, Oregon and Utah would have no federal protection whatsoever, even though populations there have just started to recover. And wolf recovery in the Southwest, where there are currently only 50 Mexican gray wolves remaining in the wild, would effectively grind to a halt.
What does the settlement mean for wolves now?
If approved by the Montana federal court, this settlement will allow wolf recovery to continue across the Northern Rockies, especially in places like Wyoming, where an adequate state management plan has yet to be approved, and Oregon, Washington and Utah, where wolves have only started to recover. Idaho and Montana will be allowed to resume managing wolf populations within their states, but with critical scientific safeguards in place to make sure wolves are protected, including monitoring and independent scientific review. Now it’s up to Idaho and Montana to hold up their end of the bargain and demonstrate that they can manage wolves responsibly. If they fail to do so, wolves could once again be placed under the protection of the ESA.
What are the terms of the settlement?
The agreement reached will provide a critical scientific safety net that will allow wolves to be delisted in Idaho and Montana while retaining protections across the rest of the region. The Interior Department will help ensure that the states are adequately managing wolves by monitoring the status of wolves in Idaho and Montana on an annual basis. After three years, the Interior Department will also seek an independent scientific review of the status of wolves in the region to more clearly define what constitutes a viable and genetically connected wolf population in the Northern Rockies. Finally, when Wyoming develops a wolf management plan that meets the requirements of the ESA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will issue a new delisting rule based upon the best available science.
What are the next legal steps?
If the court accepts the terms of the settlement, wolf management will be returned to state fish and wildlife agencies in Idaho and Montana. If the court does not accept the terms of the settlement, wolves will remain protected under the Endangered Species Act throughout the Northern Rockies as they are currently, but only so long as Congress does not adopt delisting legislation. We would expect that, if the settlement agreement is not approved, anti-wolf sentiment would continue to grow, making it nearly inevitable that Congress would adopt damaging delisting legislation.
How will Defenders continue to protect wolves?
Regardless of what happens with this settlement, Defenders will continue fighting to ensure the successful long-term recovery of wolves across the Northern Rockies. We will continue to oppose efforts by anti-wolf extremists to strip vital protections for wolves where the long-term survival of the species is still in jeopardy. And we will also continue to work closely with ranchers to develop and implement the tools and techniques they need to coexist with wolves, including expanding our program into Oregon and Washington where wolves have only recently returned.
If the settlement is approved, we are prepared to work together with the states to make sure sustainable wolf populations are maintained. Idaho and Montana have made commitments in the past to manage wolves responsibly and we plan to hold them to their word. And if populations are ever threatened with serious decline in the future, we will petition the federal government to restore ESA protections once again.
If the settlement is not approved, we will continue to oppose federal delisting legislation and work toward a solution that protects the long-term recovery of the species and upholds the scientific principles of the Endangered Species Act.
What can you do to help wolves now?
We need your support now more than ever. This settlement provides a path forward that upholds the scientific principles of the ESA and ensures continued wolf recovery across the Northern Rockies. But we need to send a strong message to Congress that legislating away protections for wolves is the exact WRONG approach. For many years, the American people, and members of Defenders of Wildlife in particular, have shown support for wolf recovery and protecting imperiled wildlife. Please, continue to tell Congress that you support wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies and the Southwest, and you oppose any efforts to place politics above science in the conservation of endangered species.
Protecting Livestock, Saving Wolves
The Defenders of Wildlife Wolf Coexistence Partnership is demonstrating ways that conservationists and ranchers can work together to protect livestock and save wolves by avoiding and minimizing conflicts.
The program helps prevent conflict between imperiled wolves and humans by supporting the use of nonlethal deterrents and best management practices, including:
- Range riders or cowboys to protect livestock
- Guard dogs to alert herders and range riders of nearby wolves
- Portable fencing or fladry (brightly colored flags strung across a rope or electrified wire that scare wolves) to secure livestock overnight
- Nonlethal hazing techniques, such as shining bright lights or firing a loud starter pistol, to drive off wolves
- Good husbandry practices, such as removing carcasses, which attract wolves
- Moving livestock to grazing pastures away from wolf dens
Check out our video above, Keeping Wolves out of Harm’s Way, to see some of these successful techniques in action.
The program works directly with landowners and communities to:
- reduce conflicts between wolves and humans;
- keep wolves from being unnecessarily killed by agencies in response to human conflicts; and
- increase general acceptance of wolves across the landscape.
What Defenders Is Doing
To date, Defenders has implemented wolf and livestock co-existence projects throughout wolf ranges in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Alberta, and Oregon. These include four major range rider projects in key corridor wolf conservation areas: northwestern Montana (connecting the USA and Canadian northern Rockies); Greater Yellowstone ecosystem in southeastern Montana and northwestern Wyoming; and, most recently, the first ever rider project in northeastern Oregon.
Our project partners include ranchers, state and federal agencies, livestock associations, and other conservation organizations.
- “Sticking Up for Wolves in the Northern Rockies”…WildEarth Guardians Speaks Out! (howlingforjustice.wordpress.com)
- Groups file settlement on wolf delisting – Helena Independent Record (news.google.com)
- “Western Watersheds Project Stands Up For Wolves” (howlingforjustice.wordpress.com)
- Compromise could take gray wolves off the endangered species list in two states (scientificamerican.com)
- Wolves could be removed from endangered species list (reuters.com)
- Wolf war truce (blogs.nature.com)
- Federal protections restored for Northern Rockies wolves (throughagreenlens.com)
- Wolf hunting could resume in Montana, Idaho (cbc.ca)
- Senate includes wolf delisting bill in must-pass funding package (yubanet.com)