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Judge Strikes Down Wolf Program

December 13, 1997

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) _ A federal judge Friday found a program to reintroduce wolves to the northern Rockies illegal, and he ordered the removal of wolves that had been released in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.

U.S. District Judge William Downes said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s wolf recovery program illegally reduced the endangered species protection afforded to native Montana and Canadian wolves.

Under the program, the wolves placed in Yellowstone and central Idaho are considered an ``experimental population,″ meaning they do not have endangered species protection and can be shot if they were found preying on livestock.

But native wolves from Montana and Canada, which are considered endangered species, often wander south into Yellowstone and Idaho, where they would become part of the experimental population and lose their special protection.

``Congress did not intend to allow reduction of protections to existing natural populations in whole or in part,″ Downes said in his ruling.

Downes stayed his own order pending an expected appeal from the government.

Sharon Rose, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Denver, said her agency was still reviewing the judge’s ruling and that the Justice Department would decide whether to appeal.

The Fish and Wildlife Service in 1995 and 1996 transplanted 66 Canadian grey wolves in Yellowstone and central Idaho in an effort to restore wolves to their historic range in America’s northern Rockies.

Since then, the wolf population in Yellowstone has grown from 41 to about 90 and from 25 in central Idaho to at least 73.

Downes ordered the wildlife service to remove all the transplanted wolves and their offspring.

He said once those wolves are removed, the strict rules of the Endangered Species Act will apply, forbidding the shooting of wolves for any reason. Biologists agree native wolves from Montana are slowly migrating south toward Yellowstone, mostly in northwestern Wyoming.

Downes’ ruling came in a 3-year-old lawsuit first filed by the Wyoming Farm Bureau, and later joined by the National Audubon Society and James and Cat Urbigkit. They contended that it was wrong to treat the transplanted wolves as an experimental species.

But Hank Fischer, a spokesman for Defenders of Wildlife, said his group was convinced Downes had erred.

``Drastic action like the removal of wolves from Yellowstone seems to make no sense,″ he said. ``I’m sure we will be part of a challenge and will work with every ounce of energy to see that the ruling does not stand.″

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