BILLINGS — Gray wolves in Montana and Idaho would be taken off the endangered list under the budget bill pending before Congress, two Western lawmakers said.
Inclusion of the language to lift protections for wolves was confirmed by the offices of Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson on Saturday.
"It's high time for a predictable, practical law that finally delists Montana's wolves and returns their management to our state — for the sake of our wildlife, our livestock, and for the jobs that rely on them," Tester said in a statement.
Simpson spokeswoman Nikki Watts said the bill also would prevent courts from reversing any Congressional action.
"This wolf fix isn't about one party's agenda," Tester said. "It's about what's right for Montana and the West — which is why I've been working so hard to get this solution passed, and why it has support from all sides."
Environmental groups fought prior efforts to remove more than 1,600 wolves in the Northern Rockies from the endangered list. In a bid to pre-empt Congressional action, 10 groups recently signed an agreement with the Obama administration that would lift protections but provide safeguards against overhunting.
Lawmakers including Tester and Simpson said they didn't want to risk that agreement being rejected in court.
One of the groups that worked on the agreement was the Center for Biological Diversity.
"We went a long, long way down a difficult road to do that," said the center's Kieran Suckling, who considered Tester's action a betrayal of that process. "For Tester to push legislation on top of that is extremely disappointing and I think it's something that Jon Tester is going to regret for the rest of his short career."
A final vote on the budget bill is expected next week.
"I still hold out strong hope that the Senate is not going to allow a wolf rider on the final bill that goes through," Suckling said.
It was uncertain Saturday if the bill would take more than 300 wolves off the endangered list in Wyoming.
The state had been left out of prior measures because of a Wyoming law that would allow wolves to be shot on sight across most of the state.
Gray wolves once roamed most of the country but were largely exterminated from the lower 48 states by the early 1930s. A reintroduction program trapped some in Canada and released them in the U.S.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Montana has twice rejected attempts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declare wolves recovered in the Northern Rockies.
Political pressure to reduce wolf numbers in Montana and other states has been mounting in recent years as wolf attacks on livestock gradually increased and some big-game herds suffered declines.