BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Republican budget bill would strip gray wolves of Endangered Species Act protections across most of the Northern Rockies.
A two-sentence provision tucked into the GOP's continuing budget resolution directs Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to reissue a 2009 rule that took wolves off the endangered list in Montana, Idaho and parts of Oregon, Washington and Utah.
Two prior attempts to lift protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies were reversed by a federal judge in Montana. But the measure introduced Friday would shield the Department of Interior from a court challenge.
It would leave protections in place for wolves in the desert Southwest, the upper Great Lakes and Wyoming.
The continuing budget resolution would fund the government through the end of the 2010 fiscal year on Sept. 30. An earlier resolution is due to expire March 4, after lawmakers failed to agree on a more comprehensive measure.
The provision on wolves was added by Rep. Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Interior Department.
"Not only do wolf populations far exceed recovery goals, but without proper management those populations have grown to the point where they are adversely impacting other wildlife populations in the region and wreaking havoc for ranchers, hunters, and public land users in Idaho," Simpson said in a statement.
About 1,700 wolves roam the Northern Rockies after the species made dramatic a recovery since being reintroduced to the region in the mid-1990s. But as the population has expanded, attacks on livestock and big game herds have generated a rising backlash from ranching and hunting groups, two powerful constituencies in the West.
The Obama administration — like the Bush administration before it — has supported efforts to remove wolves from the endangered list in the Northern Rockies. The predators temporarily lost federal protections in April 2009, allowing Idaho and Montana to host hunts for the animals before a ruling last summer from U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy halted the practice.
Molloy's ruling came after wildlife advocacy groups sued to stop the hunts and restore U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service jurisdiction over wolves. Those wildlife advocates contend the wolf's recovery remains incomplete, with the species remaining at risk from hostile state laws and confined to less than 5 percent of its historic range.
"Politicians aren't scientists and they shouldn't act like they are by suddenly saying they know when an endangered species has recovered," said Kieren Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.