Missoulian: Wolf delisting appears likely as measure joins federal budget bill

A measure taking gray wolves off federal Endangered Species Act protection made it into the must-pass U.S. Senate budget bill late Monday night.

Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus, both Democrats, placed a rider in the 2011 Appropriations Bill reauthorizing a 2009 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule delisting the gray wolf in the northern Rocky Mountains.

The move gives Montana and Idaho wildlife agencies management authority over the predator, which would allow the return of public wolf hunting. And it would block any further court action on the FWS rule.

The rider also opens the door for Wyoming to join the local-control wolf club. Its final sentence lets stand an October Wyoming federal court decision that found Wyoming’s wolf management plan was illegally rejected. Wyoming was originally left out of the 2009 rule because its plan made wolves trophy hunting animals around Yellowstone National Park, but classified them as shoot-on-sight predators everywhere else in the state.

Wolves in Washington, Oregon and Utah would also be put under state control by the rider. Those states have relatively tiny wolf populations, compared to the nearly 1,700 wolves in the Montana-Idaho-Wyoming area.

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