Congress and a federal court hit gray wolf advocates with a double-whammy last weekend. Negotiators in D.C. deliberated until midnight Friday over a must-pass federal budget bill that in the end also took the wolves off the Endangered Species list. The next day, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy rejected a court settlement recently proposed by 10 environmental groups.
"It was certainly a dark weekend for wolves and wildlife conservation overall," says Michael Leahy of Defenders of Wildlife, one of the parties in the settlement effort. "Congress has undermined our system of wildlife conservation by saying science doesn't matter, politics and fear are all that matter."
The budget bill rider—officially attached by Sen. Jon Tester and Idaho's Rep. Mike Simpson on Tuesday—returns Northern Rockies gray wolves to the 2009 management structure. Montana and Idaho will once again control their own populations. Protections for Wyoming wolves remain pending a federally approved state plan.
"This is just pulling wolves off [the endangered species list] because they are recovered," Tester says. "They're at the top of the food chain, and we need to manage them just like we manage elk or deer or bighorn sheep or whatever wildlife's out there."
Rep. Denny Rehberg greeted the rider with mixed emotions this week, calling it a temporary fix. Rehberg launched his own delisting attempt this session targeting gray wolves nationwide. "I still prefer a solution that fully turns management over to the states," Rehberg told the Indy, "but that's just not going to be possible unless Congress decides to stand up to the radical urban environmentalists who think they know how to manage our land better than we do in Montana."
Compared to Rehberg's proposal—which environmentalists claimed would doom wolf populations in the Southwest—Leahy views the rider as a lesser evil. Still, the settling groups fought hard to ensure management would hinge on the "best available science." Leahy laments that Montana and Idaho are now "stuck with 100 to 150 wolves...as the minimum threshold" for a recovered population, while some wolf advocates maintain it should be set as much as 10 times higher.