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Conservation groups petition feds to extend wolf monitoring

BOISE, Idaho — Conservation groups are asking the federal government to continue keeping a close eye on gray wolf populations throughout the northern Rocky Mountains because states are seeking to kill more wolves.

According to the petition filed Tuesday, the five groups are seeking an additional five years of monitoring from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The states of Idaho and Montana have both substantially revised their management of wolves to aggressively reduce the wolf populations through sport hunting of wolves as well as killing of wolves in remote areas, to the point that the threat to the wolf population has significantly increased,” the petition says.

The groups backing the petition are the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Friends of the Clearwater, Cascadia Wildlands and WildWest Institute.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has been monitoring wolves since they were delisted as an endangered species in 2011. Under federal oversight, states submit annual reports that document estimated wolf population, reproduction, mortalities, livestock killed by wolves, and research.

Those efforts will sunset in May. However, states will still be held to their federally approved management plans.

Andrea Santarsiere of the Center for Biological Diversity — one of the groups behind the petition — said wolves are threatened in Idaho because the state advocates killing the species even in remote and unpopulated areas.

“The monitoring helps make sure the states are not being so overly aggressive,” she said. “The watchful eye of Fish and Wildlife Service encourages states to act a little more responsibly.”

Santarsiere added that this is the first time the federal government has been asked to extend the post-delisting monitoring period. That’s because only a small number of species have been taken off the federal endangered species list compared to the large amount under federal protections.

The groups say Idaho is particularly antagonistic toward wolves because Idaho lawmakers approved creating a Wolf Depredation Control Board in 2014 designed specifically to reduce the state’s wolf population. The Gem State has also contracted with federal agencies to hunt and trap wolves, and run them down from the air in remote regions in the state.

As of 2014, roughly 1,800 wolves with 98 breeding pairs resided in the northern Rocky Mountains between Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the eastern halves of Oregon and Washington. The federal population minimum for that region is 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs in each state; anything less than that would require a federal status review and risk the wolf being placed back on the endangered species list.

“The states have made it clear that they would like to manage wolves at a lower level than they were when we delisted them. The service has said that’s OK as long as you stay above those recovery goals. They do it with good science,” said Mike Jimenez, Fish and Wildlife Service’s wolf management coordinator for Northern Rockies.

Ron Aasheim, spokesman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said Montana’s management plan does not underestimate the impacts of current hunting policies.

“There’s a balance between biological science and political science,” he said. “Management on the ground is different from just pure biological science. The bottom line is we’ve got a very healthy wolf population and we’ve proven reasonable, responsible hunting and keeping an eye on other mortality.”

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Associated Press writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this report.

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