Conservation groups to sue feds for denying protections to Rocky Mountain gray wolves

After the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) denied protections to Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves last week, conservation and animal rights activists on Wednesday declared their forthcoming intent to sue the agency.

Four groups, led by the Center for Biological Diversity, served both FWS and the Department of the Interior, which houses the agency, with a 60-day notice of their plans to file a lawsuit.

“It’s beyond frustrating that federal officials are harming wolf recovery by denying wolves in the northern Rockies the powerful federal protections they deserve,” Andrea Zaccardi, carnivore conservation legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

The organizations sent Wednesday’s notice in response to a recent FWS determination that it would not be granting Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections to the gray wolves that inhabit the Northern Rocky Mountains.

That decision, which preserved the status quo, rejected two petitions from various wildlife conservation groups to list the animals under the ESA in the Northern Rockies and the U.S. West.

Agency officials said they denied the petition after modeling many threats to the wolves, including human-induced mortality and diseases, and concluding that the wolves are not at risk of extinction in this region.

The conservation groups accused FWS of neglecting best available science, while stressing that the agency should not be relying on state overestimates of the local wolf populations.

One goal of providing ESA protections would have been to prevent certain states, such as Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, from killing wolves, the petitioners had previously noted.

In Idaho, the state permits year-round, unlimited hunting and can also hire contractors to kill wolves, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Montana trappers can target wolves with night-vision scopes on private land and with strangulation snares on both public and private property, the group added.

And across Wyoming, the wolves are considered predatory species and can be killed at any time without a license, the conservationists explained.

The notification Wednesday alleged that in deeming the wolves “not warranted” for ESA listing, FWS violated a section of the act by failing to recognize risks to the animals across significant portions of their ranges.

Such risks, according to the letter, stem from “overutilization and inadequate regulation mechanisms, loss of genetic variability, and other threats.”

The groups joining the Center for Biological Diversity in signing the notification letter were the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Sierra Club.

“We refuse to sanction the annual slaughter of hundreds of wolves,” Zaccardi said. “Allowing unlimited wolf killing sabotages decades of recovery efforts in the northern Rockies.”

FWS told The Hill that it does not comment on litigation.

Updated at 6:35 p.m.

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