U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has inserted language into the Senate's Continuing Resolution - the bill that funds the entire national budget - declaring the gray wolf a recovered species in Montana and Idaho
The $1.077 trillion, seven-month spending bill is expected to reach a full Senate vote on Tuesday, and then return to the House of Representatives.
"Jon pushed for this because wolves need to be managed by Montanans who know best how to keep them under control," Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy said on Friday. "This provision delists Montana wolves and returns their management to our state."
Tester's provision is identical to a line item Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, put in the House budget bill in February. It's also virtually the same as a proposal Tester and fellow Democratic Sen. Max Baucus introduced as a stand-alone bill three weeks ago.
But it's different from Rep. Denny Rehberg's bill, which would remove the gray wolf entirely from Endangered Species Act protection.
Tester's request would reinstate a 2009 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision that formally delisted the wolf and moved it to state management. It would also declare that decision off-limits from further court review.
A coalition of environmental and conservation groups challenged that 2009 delisting in court, claiming it improperly let Montana and Idaho manage and hunt wolves while keeping Wyoming wolves under federal protection. The coalition argued wolves in all three states belong to one distinct population segment and shouldn't be managed differently according to state lines.
U.S. District Judge Don Molloy overturned the FWS delisting last August, returning the wolf to federal protection in all three states and canceling planned wolf hunting seasons in Montana and Idaho. His decision has been appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The federal government and states claim the gray wolf was no longer a threatened species after its population exceeded 150 animals and 15 breeding pairs in the three-state area. Wolf advocates stated in court the population needs to be 2,000 or more to ensure genetic diversity and dispersion. Currently there are more than 1,700 wolves scattered across Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
"This provision would hand over responsibility for wolves to the states when their approach of late has been anything but responsible," Defenders of Wildlife president Rodger Schlickeisen said in an e-mail statement on Friday. "Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has repeatedly stated his intent to kill as many wolves as possible in Idaho, and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer recently encouraged ranchers to take the law into their own hands and kill wolves on sight. We should not be rewarding these states for thumbing their noses at the conservation of wolves, wildlife that belongs to all Americans."
Simpson's move had won praise from several conservation groups, including the Montana Wildlife Federation, Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, Boone and Crockett Club, National Rifle Association and Safari Club International.
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.