CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Environmental groups on Friday filed a third federal lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's recent move to end federal protections for wolves in Wyoming.
The Humane Society of the United States and the Fund for Animals filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The groups say Wyoming's management plan classifying wolves as predators that can be shot on sight in most of the state is inadequate. They want the court to reinstate federal protections.
Two other similar lawsuits filed by environmental groups are pending, one in the same federal court in Washington and another in federal court in Denver.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has said state management is adequate to maintain set minimum wolf populations. He wants all three lawsuits moved to Wyoming.
Wyoming has committed to maintaining at least 10 breeding pairs of wolves and at least 100 individual animals outside of Yellowstone and the Wind River Indian Reservation, in the central part of the state. Wildlife managers estimated there were roughly 300 wolves outside of Yellowstone National Park, where no hunting is allowed, when the state took over management on Oct. 1.
About 50 wolves have been killed in Wyoming since the state took over management. The state has been holding an organized hunt for wolves in a designated trophy management area bordering Yellowstone. The animals are unprotected in the rest of the state.
Ralph Henry, deputy director of litigation with The Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C., said Friday the groups believe the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service caved to political pressure when it accepted Wyoming's delisting plan.
Henry noted the plan is similar to one that the federal agency first accepted but then repudiated a few years ago, saying it didn't go far enough to make sure that wolves in Wyoming would maintain contact with populations in Idaho and Montana. Congress exempted wolf delisting in Idaho and Montana from legal challenges, but has extended no such protection to Wyoming.
"Fish and Wildlife Service itself previously rejected Wyoming's management plan for not managing for any form of buffer over that very minimum 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves in the state," Henry said. "And this current delisting, we believe, is an about-face. It's a flip-flop by the federal government on that particular point."
Fish and Wildlife Service officials have declined to comment on the wolf litigation since the first lawsuit was filed last month, saying they don't comment on pending litigation.
Gov. Matt Mead has worked with U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar over the past two years on the wolf delisting. Mead has emphasized that Wyoming has no interest in seeing the wolf population drop below minimum levels, a move that could result in reinstating federal protections.
Renny MacKay, spokesman for Mead, said Friday the governor believes all legal challenges against state wolf management should be heard in the state. Some ranchers and sportsmen in the state have said the growing wolf population has taken an impermissible toll on livestock and other wildlife since wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone in the mid-1990s.
"Obviously, a lot of people across the state are interested in this topic," MacKay said of wolf management. "But this is about our state, our people, our wildlife, so it should take place here."