A group of wolf advocates has requested an emergency halt to wolf hunting in the Rocky Mountains, less than a week before the general rifle season begins in Montana.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater and WildEarth Guardians want to return the gray wolf to federal Endangered Species Act protection.
After Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, delisted the wolf with a congressional rider last spring, the groups challenged the action in U.S. District Court.
The Missoula court upheld the congressional delisting, and wolf advocates appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That appeal has not been argued yet.
"The hearing on summary judgment is scheduled for Nov. 8, but you know they can take a long time to rule, a year or two," Alliance for the Wild Rockies director Michael Garrity said on Monday. "The general rifle season is about to start, so we asked for the emergency injunction."
Montana and Idaho wildlife departments authorized hunting seasons for this fall. Montana's archery season just ended on Sunday, and the general rifle season begins Saturday. So far, archers have killed four wolves, while backcountry rifle hunters in special early season districts have killed seven more.
Idaho hunters have reported 60 wolves killed since their rifle season began Aug. 30. Montana has a quota of 220 wolves for the 2011 season, while Idaho has not set a quota.
Rocky Mountain gray wolves have been on the Endangered Species List since 1972. In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared wolf populations recovered in Montana and Idaho, and turned wolves over to state management there. Both states held wolf hunts that year.
A large coalition of wolf advocates sued over the decision, and U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled in their favor in 2010, returning the wolf to federal management. The 2011 congressional rider reinstated the FWS delisting rule. It also put that rule off limits from further court review.
A few of the original wolf advocate coalition members sued again, claiming the rider violated the constitutional principle of separation of powers. They argued Congress could not tell the court system what issues it could examine.
Molloy upheld the rider's legality, but wrote that he strongly disagreed with his own ruling. While other courts had upheld Congress' power to put issues off limits, he said he thought those precedents were in error.
Garrity also included the 81 Idaho wolves and 64 Montana wolves killed for livestock protection or other circumstances.
"We wanted to make the point to the 9th Circuit that lots of wolves have been killed," Garrity said. "If they get listed again as endangered species, there's more restrictions on (federal) wildlife services. Now they can kill them like coyotes."
However, state and federal wildlife managers killed similar numbers of wolves in both states when the animals were under federal protection.
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.