The U.S. Senate approved a must-pass budget bill on Thursday, removing wolves in Montana and Idaho from Endangered Species Act protections and placing wolf management under state game departments.
A rider in the budget bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, returns the legal playing field back to 2009 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had delisted the wolves in Montana and Idaho. Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, attached a similar measure to the House version of the budget bill.
“This is a responsible step, and a step I think needed to happen,” said Tester, in a late-afternoon conference call with reporters.
The budget bill passed in the Democratically-controlled Senate 81-19 and earlier in the Republican-controlled House 260-167.
Although Sen. Max Baucus, D-MT, and Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer both praised Tester’s successful efforts, Denny Rehberg, Montana’s U.S. representative, did not, nor did he vote for the budget bill. Rehberg was one of 59 Republicans in the House to vote against the bill.
Rep. Rehberg has a rival wolf bill, which would delist wolves throughout the lower 48 states – including Wyoming, which has a controversial law that treats wolves as shoot-on-sight predators in 90 percent of the state and as trophy animals in the national forests surrounding Yellowstone National Park.
Rehberg announced he’s running against Tester in 2012.
The wolf delisting language is as follows:
SEC. 1713. Before the end of the 60-day period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of the Interior shall reissue the final rule published on April 2, 2009 (74 Fed. Reg. 15123 et seq.) without regard to any other provision of statute or regulation that applies to issuance of such rule. Such reissuance (including this section) shall not be subject to judicial review and shall not abrogate or otherwise have any effect on the order and judgment issued by the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming in Case Numbers 09–CV–118J and 09–CV–138J on November 18, 2010.
That last phrase about Wyoming upholds Judge Alan Johnson’s November 2010 ruling that the USFWS had acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in rejecting Wyoming’s wolf management plan.
Wyoming’s U.S. Rep., Republican Cynthia Lummis, views that language as helpful to the cause of delisting the wolf in her state, as well. “Upholding Judge Johnson’s ruling is crucial to advancing negotiations on a common sense wolf management plan. This language removes obstacles that would have otherwise hindered discussions on the status of the fully recovered gray wolf in Wyoming,” she said in a statement.
Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are already deep in negotiations that would make the dual-status of Wyoming wolves acceptable to the service. Steve Ferrell, a policy advisor to Gov. Matt Mead, has been talking to Wyoming interest groups about a “flex line” idea, which would temporarily extend the trophy area boundary south to Big Piney, so as to allow dispersal of wolves between Wyoming and Idaho.
Conservation groups have expressed disappointment with the Tester/Simpson language for two reasons. One is the fact that in the 38-year history of the Endangered Species Act, Congress has never delisted a species by a political decision – until now, said Kierán Suckling, executive director for the Center for Biological Diversity. Secondly, said Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds, the bill bans judicial review and any challenge of this delisting by conservation groups.