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Many Montana, Idaho and Wyoming residents who have been adversely affected or threatened by an ever growing wolf population in the Northern Rockies have come to the realization that this issue will never be resolved by the presiding judge of the U.S. District Court in Missoula, MT. Any time that Judge Donald Molloy schedules a court session to hear arguments from staunch environmental groups wanting more protection for wolves, and thousands of more wolves on the landscape, sportsmen and those residents who have come to appreciate a rich wildlife heritage in this region of the country know they are about to lose – again.

And this has angered many who have grown tired of watching wildlife populations being destroyed by an ever greater number of wolves. So much so, that a huge crowd of protesters is expected to gather outside and around the federal courthouse, at the corner of East Broadway and North Patte streets, during an upcoming hearing when Molloy listens to arguments from environmental groups about why the meaning of the “non-essential” and “experimental” classification of the Canadian wolves should be changed or eliminated.

Another wolf kill.

Sportsmen and livestock producers know that such change will make it even harder to gain control of a wolf population in the Northern Rockies, which many feel now exceeds 4,000 – not the 1,700 claimed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the environmental groups. All parties involved are to submit briefs by February 22, with the expected court date to be in March. (Watch for the date and time on LOBO WATCH.)

The continued growth of the wolf population in the Northern Rockies is the result of management, or control, being withheld from state wildlife agencies. That management, as outlined in the original Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Plan and the 1994 Environmental Impact Statement filed by the USFWS, was to have been turned over to those agencies in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming when the numbers reached 300 – with at least 100 wolves and 10 breeding packs in each state. That goal was reached 10 years ago, and other than one 2009 wolf hunting season held in Montana and Idaho, no other such management has taken place. And those who have been hardest hit by escalated wolf depredation have grown weary of the legal foot dragging, and those responsible.

The wolf kill remains of the family dog.

At the heart of the problem has repeatedly been U.S. District Court judge Donald Molloy. During a 2010 hearing, Molloy listened to arguments from the same environmental groups he will receive briefs from by February 22, as to why a scheduled wolf control/management hunt for that fall was too premature, and why wolves should once again be relisted under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. After nearly two months of deliberation, he ruled that wolves would be put back on the Endangered Species List, and the hunts scheduled for Montana and Idaho were canceled.

Molloy’s court has not recognized Wyoming’s wolf management plan as being adequate, and had already ruled that a management hunt could not be conducted in that state during the fall and winter of 2009. Likewise, the state was also excluded from the possibility of a hunt in 2010. Ironically, the USFWS had helped the State of Wyoming draft their management plan, and USFWS had given it their seal of approval. However, when Judge Molloy criticized Wyoming for not allowing wolves to run statewide, USFWS then rejected the state’s plan. And Molloy’s 2010 decision was based purely on the backpedaling by USFWS – for which Molloy was largely responsible.

This is not the small gray or timber wolf the environmentalists have encouraged.

His decision was that since Northern Rockies wolves are recognized by that same flip-flopping USFWS as a “Distinct Population Segment”, the 2010 hunts scheduled in Montana and Idaho could not be held. It was his decision that until the Wyoming wolf management plan was changed to become more like the plans adopted by Montana and Idaho, it was wrong to allow the hunts in the other two states. And this really puzzled sportsmen who have had to deal with micro-managed wildlife populations for most of the past 50 years. Molloy’s ruling denied the opportunity to reduce wolf numbers in the other two states, where wolves were wiping out big game populations, and were turning more and more to livestock depredation. Despite the fact that intense management was needed in Montana and Idaho, Donald Molloy once again ruled in favor of pro-wolf environmentalists.

Several months after that decision, another federal judge, Alan Johnson, in Cheyenne, WY made the decision that USFWS had been wrong to reject the Wyoming wolf management plan. Although that plan called for managing wolves in just the northwestern corner of the state, in only about 12-percent of the state, in and around Yellowstone National Park, there were right at 350 wolves there – which is 3 1/2 times as many as outlined in the original plan. When first outlined, environmental groups like the Defenders of Wildlife accepted the recovery numbers of 100 wolves per state, but have repeatedly taken the issue back to Molloy’s court to get the goal line moved farther and farther ahead.

This moose was, perhaps, fortunate to have survived a wolf attack.

This is not a problem in just the Northern Rockies. The same has taken place in the Upper Midwest, where 6,000 or more wolves now roam across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. And gray wolves are now being found in Washington, Oregon, Utah and Colorado, with lone wolves being killed in the Dakotas, Missouri and Nebraska. If the Center for Biological Diversity has its way, this spreading is just the beginning. This radical environmental group has stated their goal is to see wolves restored all across this country, from coast to coast, running by the tens of thousands.

This is one of the organizations which will be represented by Earthjustice during Molloy’s upcoming hearing. And many of those who will be protesting outside of the courthouse that day will know that should this overly environmental organization friendly judge dramatically change or eliminate the “non-essential” or “experimental” classification of the non-native and non-endangered Canadian wolves transplanted into the Northern Rockies, it will make it tougher to control the wildlife and livestock damage inflicted by wolves – and possibly to halt their spread into every state of the Continental U.S.

That fear has resulted in proposed national legislation to get wolves removed from the Endangered Species List, and the right to manage wolf numbers returned to the wildlife agencies of each and every state. Although two bills that were drafted in the Senate and the House of Representatives failed to make it onto the floor in 2010, they have since been revamped into Senate bill S.249 and House resolution H.R.509 for 2011 – and both seek the right of affected states to manage or control wolf populations and the damage wolves inflict. While sportsmen and livestock producers are sure to support these bills, environmental groups are just as sure to fight them tooth and nail.

Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, has commented, “These bills would sacrifice wildlife belonging to all Americans just because a small minority of people don’t like wolves.”

The sportsmen of this country, who have been the ones to actually foot the bill for wildlife conservation for the past hundred years, not environmental groups like Defenders of Wildlife or the Center for Biological Diversity, say the exact same thing about radical pro-wolf and extremely anti-hunting environmentalists. U.S. hunters feel these groups are willing to sacrifice a wealth of elk, deer, moose, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and other wildlife just to pull game numbers so low that populations can no longer support hunter harvest.

At a January press conference, David Allen, the c.e.o. and president of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation shared that the goal of this legislation is not to wipe out wolf populations, but rather to control wolf numbers at an acceptable level – a level that does not result in the dramatic loss of other wildlife resources. He also stated that the efforts of the environmental groups has nothing to do with saving wildlife, but rather to support their anti-hunting agenda, and to abuse the Equal Access to Justice Act which has become a very lucrative cash cow for these groups.

Ryan Benson, national director for Big Game Forever says, “It is time to put aside the divisive politics that are used against any group who petitions for the promises of the ESA to be fulfilled. Not only does such divisive rhetoric ignore the investment of states, sportsmen and livestock producers in wolf recovery, it is also counterproductive to a constructive dialog of the need of wolf populations to be managed responsibly.”

Those sportsmen and ranchers who will be marching outside of Missoula’s federal courthouse when the wolf issue sees yet another day in court have had their fill of demanding environmental groups, and feel that the outdoor lifestyle they have chosen and love is now becoming what is truly endangered. They are now ready and willing to fight back.

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