US Fish and Wildlife is accepting comments on Montana’s wolf reduction proposal in the Bitterroot Mountains

Blaming wolves for poor elk management?

Graph of information presented in Montana's Bitterroot 10(j) proposal. (Click for Larger View)

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has issued an Environmental Assessment for Montana Fish Wildlife and Park’s wolf reduction proposal for the Bitterroot hunting district HD250 just southeast of Hamilton, Montana.  In the proposal to kill all but 12 wolves in the district, they claim that wolves are responsible for declines that they have seen in the district and that they are causing “unacceptable impacts” elk population there such that they can no longer meet the objectives they have set there.

While the elk population has declined it should be noted that there was a sharp increase in harvest of all classes of elk in the area after wolves were documented even though as one of the peer reviewers says “[t]here is strong evidence that female harvests need to be reduced when wolves are present (for example, see Nilsen et al. 2005, Journal of Applied Ecology)”. The elk count objectives for the area were also drastically increased to levels far above what the area had previously supported and harvest levels remained high as well.

There is also very little information about the population of bears and mountain lions which also take elk.  Bears, in particular, take very young elk and can have a very large impact on elk populations.

Whether or not killing large numbers of wolves and other predators is effective in increasing elk populations is still debatable but it seems apparent to me that the FWP is blaming wolves for their poor management of elk and that their objectives were based on more wishful thinking rather than what was actually possible.

Here are the Criteria for Proposing Wolf Control Measures under the 2008 NRM Gray Wolf ESA Section 10(j) Rule

  1. The basis of ungulate population or herd management objectives
  2. What data indicate that the ungulate herd is below management objectives
  3. What data indicate that wolves are a major cause of the unacceptable impact to the ungulate population
  4. Why wolf removal is a warranted solution to help restore the ungulate herd to management objectives
  5. The level and duration of wolf removal being proposed
  6. How ungulate population response to wolf removal will be measured and control actions adjusted for effectiveness
  7. Demonstration that attempts were and are being made to address other identified major causes of ungulate herd or population declines or of State or Tribal government commitment to implement possible remedies or conservation measures in addition to wolf removal

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Feds, environmental groups file arguments on wolf recovery with Molloy

Molloy asked whether the 10(j) rule is even applicable

Parties to the lawsuit challenging the changes made to the 10(j) rule for the experimental, non-essential populations of wolves in Central Idaho and the Greater Yellowstone filed their arguments yesterday. At issue now are not the changes made to the 10(j) rule in 2008 which ease restrictions for killing wolves, but whether or not the 10(j) rule even applies anymore. Judge Molloy questioned the litigants about whether a 10(j) rule was justified because wolves from both the Central Idaho and the Greater Yellowstone populations have essentially become one population with those of Northwest Montana and Northern Idaho north of I-90 which are nonexperimental.

The ESA makes it clear that the 10(j) provisions only apply to populations that are “wholly separate geographically from nonexperimental populations of the same species”.

(j) EXPERIMENTAL POPULATIONS.—(1) For purposes of this subsection, the term “experimental population” means any population (including any offspring arising solely therefrom) authorized by the Secretary for release under paragraph (2), but only when, and at such times as, the population is wholly separate geographically from nonexperimental populations of the same species.

Feds, environmental groups file arguments on wolf recovery with Molloy.
By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian

Added – Copies of the Briefs ~ be :

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US Fish & Wildlife Solicits Comments on 10(j) Proposal to Slaughter Lolo Wolves

From the USFWS Press Release 2/10/11:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today the availability of a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) of Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s request to manage gray wolves in the Lolo Elk Management Zone in north central Idaho in response to impacts of wolf predation on elk.

The Draft Environmental Analysis and supporting documents are available at the USFWS website here.

Feds OK hunting of 60 wolves in north Idaho – AP

Feds delay decision on Idaho wolf killing

Predetermined outcome?

Brian Kelly, the new director of the USFWS office in Boise, states that Idaho’s Lolo Zone 10(j) wolf killing proposal has been put on hold so that the agency can conduct a NEPA review. This is good news but I’m betting that they will try to figure out how to get out of doing any review by issuing a Determination of NEPA Adequacy which says they don’t have to conduct any review under NEPA or issue a Categorical Exclusion which essentially does the same. At minimum this requires an Environmental Assessment and more appropriate would be an Environmental Impact Statement. Nonetheless, now that circumstances have changed, there should be more public review.

Whatever the route taken, it appears that Brian Kelly has already made his decision depending on how you read his statement on the matter.

“The intent is to make a decision so the state can do it at a time of year it is more effective to do it.”

Seems like the review is tainted from the beginning and that they are just taking steps to justify it should it be challenged in court. The outcome of the NEPA review is preordained.

Feds delay decision on Idaho wolf killing.
Associated Press

Brief for 10(j) Lawsuit Filed in Federal Court

The 2008 10(j) rule violates the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Now that wolves have been placed back on the list of endangered species a lawsuit, which was filed before delisting was proposed, is now able to proceed. The groups are challenging the 2008 10(j) rule change which lowered the bar to allow states to kill wolves for causing “unacceptable impacts” to ungulate populations if they can show “only that a wild ungulate population is failing to meet state or tribal management objectives – however defined by the states – and that
wolves are one of the major causes for that failure.” The previous 10(j) rule defined “unacceptable impact” as a “decline in a wild ungulate population or herd, primarily caused by wolf predation, so that the population or herd is not meeting established State or Tribal management goals.” The USFWS felt that the states could not show that to be the case and, without proper review, changed the regulations to give the states more flexibility to kill wolves.

10(j) Brief

The plaintiffs’ brief was filed on August 20, 2010 and there are two basic claims in the litigation.

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Ruling might put wood bison back in Nenana Basin despite natural gas hunt

Meanwhile captive bison killing each other due to competition for food.

Sarah Palin wants a 10j rule classifying reintroduced bison as experimental non-essential so that development of their habitat can go forward unimpeded.

Ruling might put wood bison back in Nenana Basin despite natural gas hunt
Newsminer

Groups file lawsuit against the new 10j rule

As expected, a number of conservation groups have filed a lawsuit in the Montana federal district court to set aside the new 10j rule on wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming that was just published.

They are Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council,  Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society of the United States, and Friends of the Clearwater. They are represented by Earthjustice, a conservation law firm.

Story in the Missoulian. By John Cramer.

This rule states how the federal government will let the states manage wolves prior to delisting. The delisting statement is expected very soon, but most of us see the 10j rule as a backstop by the USFWS to make sure the states have authority to kill a lot of wolves even if delisting is overturned in a yet-to-be filed lawsuit.