Four conservation groups joined together in a lawsuit filed Tuesday seeking to place Wyoming gray wolves back on the endangered species list.
Wyoming’s wolf management plan is too aggressive and does not protect wolves in 85 percent of the state, said Mike Leahy, Rockies and Plains director for Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups participating in the lawsuit. Other groups in the lawsuit include the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in the District of Columbia.
“We want the wolves to be protected until Wyoming comes up with a plan that doesn’t leave the wolves isolated in the Yellowstone population and cut off from other wolves. And we object to the idea that an eradication policy is appropriate for the great majority of the state of Wyoming,” said Tim Preso, an attorney for Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm representing the conservation groups.
It could be months before the federal court hears arguments and makes a decision.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed Wyoming wolves from the endangered species list on Sept. 30. According to the management plan, wolves are considered a trophy animal and can be hunted during a season in the northwest corner of the state, outside of federal land that includes Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation. They can be shot on sight in most of the rest of the state.
Since Oct. 1, hunters have killed 33 wolves in the trophy game management area. The season continues until Dec. 31 or until all hunt areas have been filled. The final quota is 52 wolves.
Fifteen wolves have been killed outside of the trophy game management area where they are not regulated by a season, according to a wolf summary update on the Wyoming Game and Fish website.
Biologists estimated about 328 wolves lived in Wyoming at the end of 2011, according to the website.
The number of wolves killed outside of the trophy area in Wyoming should taper off, said Brian Nesvik, Game and Fish’s chief of the wildlife division.
Earthjustice filed an intent to sue on behalf of the conservation groups days after the Fish and Wildlife Service announced its delisting decision in late August. By law, the groups had to wait 60 days before they could formally file the lawsuit with a court.
“Those suing the federal government appear to have decided to go forward regardless of what is happening on the ground,” Gov. Matt Mead said in a statement emailed by communications director Renny MacKay. “Rather than looking at Wyoming’s successful efforts, these groups are suing based on what they wanted.”
His statement continued by saying that Wyoming’s wolf management plan is working and hunters are complying with state requirements.
“Wyoming set up a conservative hunt and will easily maintain the necessary wolf population and effectively manage the wolves as agreed upon with the federal government,” his statement read.
Under Wyoming’s management plan, the state is required to keep a minimum of 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves outside of Yellowstone and the Wind River Reservation.
A minimum of five breeding pairs and 50 wolves are required inside of Yellowstone.
The minimum number is too low and will not sustain a long-term, healthy wolf population, Leahy said.
The groups do not plan to try and stop the current hunting season, he said.