IDAHO FALLS, Idaho - The Idaho Fish and Game Commission vowed to pursue all legal options to restore the state's authority over wolf management after a federal judge's Aug. 5 ruling restored endangered species protections.

The commission passed a resolution Monday that also finds fault with U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy's decision, which restored protections to wolves in Idaho and Montana.

The panel wants Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to secure a pact with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that established Idaho as the lead manager of wolves. Toby Boudreau, regional wildlife manager, says a similar agreement was in place before federal protections were lifted last year and wolf management was turned over to Montana and Idaho.

Boudreau says the commission also will continue to seek a hunting season for wolves this fall, despite their relisting. Montana's first hunt ended with 73 wolves killed and Idaho's with 185 killed.

Commissioners "are going to seek a hunting season through the Endangered Species Act process," he told the Idaho State-Journal. "We sold 29,000 wolf tags last year. That probably did help with enforcement and management of wolves."

With hunting now uncertain, however, Idaho has begun returning money to people who purchased but didn't use 2010 wolf tags.

During the meeting Monday in Idaho Falls, commissioners who help set the agency's strategy voted unanimously in favor of appeal of Molloy's ruling, a move that would put the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Earlier this month, Molloy ruled the government illegally removed the protections from wolves in just two states, Idaho and Montana, while leaving Wyoming out of the delisting.

According to the commission's resolution, Molloy's re-listing of wolves, "is contrary to state management of wildlife, the intent and purpose of the Endangered Species Act and the clear biological recovery of wolves."

When wolves were introduced into the Rocky Mountain region in 1995, the original recovery goal was at least 300 wolves. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there were 1,706 wolves in the region by the end of 2009, including 843 in Idaho.

Idaho's commission favors management of wolves, including hunting and other lethal control actions to limit conflicts with livestock, to reduce their population statewide to about 518 animals.

In some areas of Idaho where wolves have been blamed for eating too many big game species, wolf numbers could be reduced significantly.

In the Lolo region of northcentral Idaho, for instance, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game plans to ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for permission to trim the nearly 100 animals to just 20 or 30 in a bid to give struggling elk herds a better shot at expanding.

Habitat and other factors have also kept elk numbers in the Lolo below agency goals.

After Monday's meeting, Suzanne Stone, a wolf advocate with Defenders of Wildlife, said the commissioners' resolution was predictable but unhelpful to resolving the broader debate over how best to manage and protect the predators.

"If both sides invested as much energy into resolving the conflict I think wolves would be delisted sooner rather than getting caught up in court over and over again," Stone said. "There seems to be an almost 100 percent focus on winning the conflict as opposed to resolving it."

 

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