Montana Democrats Seek State Control of Wolf Populations

Published September 5, 2010

Jon Tester and Max Baucus, Democratic Senators representing Montana, are fighting an August 5 federal court decision that restored gray wolves to the U.S. Interior Department’s list of endangered species. Officials with the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks department say there are now more than 450 wolves in the state—and roughly 1,700 wolves in the Northern Rockies—and states should be able to authorize hunting to control the wolf population. 

Developing a Regional Plan
Tester and Baucus have asked officials from Idaho and Wyoming to join Montana in creating a plan that would allow the states, instead of the federal government, to manage and control the species. Texas Representative Chet Edwards has introduced H.R. 6028, which would amend the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to prohibit gray wolves from being listed as an endangered species.

Tester and Baucus hope the cooperative formulation of a regional wolf management plan will induce Congress to support such an amendment of the ESA.

Tester and Baucus have already spearheaded passage of the Wolf Livestock Loss Mitigation Act, also known as the Wolf Kill Bill, which compensates landowners for livestock losses due to wolf attacks. The Act, however, has been largely unfunded, so Tester and Baucus sent an August letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking for full funding.

“In the pursuit of finding a lasting solution, we strongly support state management and believe that it can be used to achieve a healthy population of gray wolves while balancing the needs of the communities in this region,” the senators wrote to Salazar. “To this end, we ask you to convene discussions between all stakeholders in the tri-state region in Montana this fall. Working through a collaborative process can bring resolution to this problem if all the relevant parties are engaged.”

State Oversight Debated
Meanwhile, environmental activist groups are fighting hard to prevent the delisting of gray wolves.

“There’s a lot of support for wildlife out here,” said Mike Leahy, director of the Northern Rockies Regional Office of Defenders of Wildlife. “People want their wildlife to be properly managed, and a better approach, one we would agree with, is to a stakeholder process in the region that would revisit and update the science used for an endangered species listing—the science that sets the threshold for putting them on the list.”

“Our major concern is there is so much anti-wolf sentiment that over time, the counts will be lowered,” Leahy said. “We want protection for the wolves” at the federal level.

However, Jay Lehr, science director for The Heartland Institute, noted that state-specific or regional plans can be just as effective, if not more so, than a federal plan.

“Fish and wildlife experts for the individual states often have a better knowledge of their native species and are better able to manage species of concern than federal officials,” said Lehr. “Northern Rocky Mountain wolf populations are healthy and there is no scientific basis for taking management authority away from state experts.”

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) writes from Northern Virginia.