A U.S. District Court judge reinstated federal protections for wolves in Wyoming on Tuesday, rejecting a game management plan that would have allowed the species to be shot on sight across much of the state.
The decision ruled that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) can not rely on Wyoming's non-binding promises to maintain a population of at least 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs, the Associated Press reports. Wyoming assumed control over wolf management in 2012 after the USFWS removed the grey wolf from the federal Endangered Species list. Per the state's most recent management plan, wolves are considered 'unprotected predators,' able to be hunted at any time.
Wolves remain highly controversial in Wyoming, with ranchers claiming that the savvy predators pose a threat to livestock interests while environmental groups encourage maintaining a robust population of a species that was once hunted to the brink of extinction across much of the continental U.S.
“The decision makes clear that ‘shoot-on-sight’ is not an acceptable management plan for wolves across the majority of the state,” Dr. Sylvia Fallon, wildlife conservation director at the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a joint statement released by the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s time for Wyoming to step back and develop a more science-based approach to managing wolves.”
Wyoming Governor Matt Mead said Tuesday that he will seek a stay of the court's decision. Pending appeal, all wolf hunting and population management will fall under federal jurisdiction.
The ruling comes on the heels of this week's Yellowstone National Park 2013 wolf report, which estimated that there are currently 95 wolves in 10 packs living within the park. That number is comparable to recent years, though the overall population in the park has declined 45% since 2003. Hunting within Yellowstone itself is prohibited; however, wolves often range outside park boundaries. In 2012, the 'celebrity' female wolf known as 832F was legally shot and killed by a Wyoming hunter, prompting public outcry.
The USFWS estimates that there are more than 1,600 wolves living in the Northern Rocky Mountain region, an area which includes Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
Read more: Associated Press