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Montana sues for federal wolf protection

Gray Wolf. Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Mark Moran

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(Big Sky Connection) A coalition of conservation groups has sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for refusing to relist wolves under the Endangered Species Act.

Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies is part of the suit. The Alliance sued to successfully overturn the wolf's delisting in 2012 but the move fell victim to congressional funding bill negotiations.

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Mike Garrity, executive director of the alliance, said the wolves clearly qualify to be protected under the Act and hunting is driving down their numbers, which could cause problems for the animals.

"As their numbers decline, they are at greater risk for inbreeding," Garrity pointed out. "Once inbreeding sets in, the population is sunk."

Livestock and cattle owners argued wolves are a threat to their flocks and herds and want their numbers reduced. The suit was filed in federal District Court in Missoula.

Beyond keeping a robust population of wolves on Montana's lands and helping their species thrive, Garrity noted wolves can also help reduce the population of diseased animals.

"We're starting to have disease in deer, such as Chronic Wasting Disease," Garrity explained. "Predators like wolves are really good at focusing on the sick animals, so that's an excellent way to control Chronic Wasting Disease."

Garrity added wolf management policies in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, all of which allow aggressive hunting of the animals, fail to protect wolves and all native species for future generations, the primary mandate of the Endangered Species Act.