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Oregon, Northern Rockies Wolves Officially Back on the ESA List

Protections Back in Place as Wolves Continue Their Return to Oregon

A favorable court ruling leads the gray wolf back to federal protection after a short stint delisted from the ESA.

Portland, Ore Oct 14, 2008

In a swift and stunning reversal, gray wolves in northeast Oregon and across the northern Rockies region are today once again protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The relisting comes after attempts by the Bush administration to permanently remove the wolf from the ESA ran into a roadblock in a Montana courtroom in July.

“This ruling could not come at a more important time for Oregon’s budding wolf population,” said Doug Heiken with the conservation group Oregon Wild. “Earlier this year, Oregonians welcomed our first wolf family in over six decades and now these wolves will have the protections that will allow them to thrive.”

The Bush administration originally removed gray wolves from the list of endangered species in March of this year. In the time they lacked federal protections over 100 wolves were killed. In July, Judge Molloy ruled on a motion for preliminary injunction filed by the legal firm Earthjustice on behalf of Oregon Wild and eleven other conservation groups. In his ruling, Molloy stated that conservation groups were likely to succeed on the majority of their claims that removal of wolves from the federal list of endangered species was unlawful.

Judge Molloy cited three major problems with the delisting decision: 1) wolves have not established necessary genetic diversity; 2) a Wyoming law that would have allowed unregulated wolf killing in nearly 90 percent of the state was inadequate; and 3) the region’s population of 1,500 wolves still falls short of the numbers that independent scientists have determined to be necessary to secure the health of the species in the northern Rockies.  

After the July ruling, USFWS requested that the delisting order be remanded and wolves placed back on the endangered species list. Today’s decision granted that request in stating:

“The northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf is returned to the list of endangered and threatened species with each of its component populations having the same status under the Endangered Species Act as that population had prior to the issuance of the Final Rule.”

“Whether people in Oregon ever get the opportunity to some day see and hear wolves depends upon strong federal endangered species protection that prevents unnecessary killing of wolves throughout the northern Rockies,” added Steve Pedery, Conservation Director of Oregon Wild. “In it’s repudiation of the Bush administration’s efforts, today’s decision provides the promise that wolves will continue on the path to recovery.”

Once common in Oregon, wolves were eradicated from the state by the 1940s as part of a concerted effort to shoot, trap or poison every wolf in the western United States. In 1974, wolves were protected as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Oregon possesses tens of thousands of acres of roadless backcountry areas that could provide excellent habitat for recovered wolf populations.

Researchers from Oregon State University have found that wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park has had unexpected benefits to the environment throughout the region. By causing elk and deer herds to move around more, wolves have reduced overgrazing and led to the re-growth of important streamside vegetation. This in turn has led to improved fish habitat and an increased beaver population. Wolves strengthen deer and elk herds by thinning out the sick, old and dying, and keep populations of other predators, like coyotes and cougars, in check, which benefits a host of wildlife species.

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