Five conservation groups on Tuesday asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend its oversight of wolves in Montana and Idaho that is set to expire in May.
The agency removed the two states’ gray wolf populations from the Endangered Species List in 2011 after finding they were sufficiently recovered. The delisting order required the Fish and Wildlife Service to continue monitoring the population for five years as the states’ wildlife agencies assume management of the species.
The Missoula-based WildWest Institute is one of the petition signers. Executive director Matthew Koehler said he believes more time is needed to determine whether Montana’s management approach is keeping the population stable.
“Hunting predators can really upset the delicate social interactions among pack animals, such as wolves,” he said. “Part of where I come at this is I think it’s always good public policy to monitor massive changes in wildlife policy.”
The petition argues that significant changes to the states’ wolf management programs since delisting “are leading to declines in the wolf population, with no end in sight.”
In addition to the five-year monitoring period, the delisting order also requires the federal agency to extend the monitoring period if certain threat-based criteria are met.
A study published last month in the magazine Science found “decreasing pack sizes, disruption of the social organization of packs and reductions in juvenile survival and recruitment, all indicating a declining population” in the two states, according to the petition.
In 2014, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks issued 20,383 wolf licenses, resulting in the harvest of 206 wolves. The state agency’s 2014 wolf count estimated 700 wolves statewide.
Mike Thabault is the Fish and Wildlife Service’s assistant regional director for ecological services at the agency’s Denver office. He said even though the federal monitoring is set to expire in May, the agency will continue monitoring the state management programs, albeit to a less hands-on extent.
“Just because the statutory time frame for post-delisting monitoring is up doesn’t mean the Fish and Wildlife Service isn’t paying attention to wolves,” he said. “We still have an ongoing obligation to look at wolf management and we continue to have the ability to look at the status of a species and determine if it should be re-listed.”
He added that he has not seen any evidence that Montana and Idaho management programs are putting wolf populations in jeopardy.
The other organizations that filed the petition are the Center for Biological Diversity, the Western Watersheds Project, Friends of the Clearwater and Cascadia Wildlands.
Upon receiving the petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to respond with a determination that the groups’ concerns are either substantial or non-substantial. A “substantial” finding would trigger a more in-depth, 12-month study to determine whether to extend the monitoring program.
Reporter Sam Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at email@example.com.