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Advocates: Wolf case a test for endangered species


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A federal court hearing today could decide how the federal Endangered Species Act is interpreted, and whether the government can use political considerations in choosing how and where a species can be listed under the act, according to people on both sides of the issue.

U. S. District Judge Donald Molloy will hear arguments in Missoula on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's April 2009 decision that designated northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves a distinct population segment, took the wolves off endangered species list and turned over wolf management to Montana and Idaho wildlife officials.

The same decision left federal protections in place in Wyoming, where state law is considered hostile to the wolves' survival. Wyoming law declares almost 90 percent of the state a "predator zone" where wolves can be shot on sight.

Key among the arguments by Defenders of Wildlife, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the other plaintiffs is that leaving federal protections in one state while removing them in the other two is a violation of the law that protects wildlife.

"I feel as though this is about the legal standing for the Endangered Species Act," said Earthjustice attorney Douglas Honnold, who is representing the plaintiffs. "It's going to have an impact on virtually every species that's listed."

If the court rules for the Fish and Wildlife Service, the decision will set a precedent allowing the federal government to arbitrarily choose which animals should be protected and where, Honnold said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says it considered all relevant factors in making the decision and it has the discretion to limit endangered species protections to just that portion of the species' range where it is endangered.

"It's (going to be) a significant ruling by the judge, we believe," said Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Sharon Rose. "It has implications for how a distinct population segment is going to work and how it is interpreted in the Endangered Species Act."


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